Friday, April 27, 2012

Hi everyone

I've posted an excerpt for my book A Dangerous Masquerade for you.  It will appear below this hopefully, but I'm not very good with blogger's new format and I've scheduled the other post so I'm hoping it comes through.

At the moment I have a Regency trilogy out with M&B - A Dangerous Masquerade, The Mysterious Lord Marlowe and the Scandalous Lord Lanchester - also a double book entitled Mishief and Marriage. All the M&Be books are available in paperback and ebook, but A Dangerous Masquerade is only in ebook.

Hope you enjoy them.
Love from Linda/Anne
Working hard on something new at the moment.
The Marquis of Mooraven yawned behind his hand, and, having gathered up his winnings, rose from the table more than two thousand guineas richer than he’d been when he sat down. He felt no elation, though there was a time when he’d needed every penny he won from his gambling, but that was before his Uncle Tomas obligingly left him his title, estate and fortune. He had several titles to his name, amongst them earl, marquis, twice over, baron and count, but was using his uncle’s for reasons of his own. In time, he might end as a duke by way of his mother’s family being in danger of losing every male heir in the line. The dowager duchess had summoned him only two days before he left for Paris.

‘My husband’s father had the deed of title altered so that if his male heirs failed his daughters might inherit the dukedom as well as the estate. As you know, my only surviving daughter died last year and her infant son is sickly. My three sons have died. That leaves you, Mooraven – my sister-in-law’s grandson. Sorry as I am to say it, if the child dies you will become Duke of Rothmere.’

‘How tiresome for you,’ Mooraven drawled. He had crossed swords with the dowager before, and though he did not dislike her, knew that she disapproved of him with every bone of her body. ‘You must guard him well, ma’am. I advise you to employ the best nannies – and have him seen regularly by a doctor of good repute.’

‘You almost sound sincere.’ The elderly lady fixed him with a hawkish stare. ‘Did I not know you for a rogue and a scoundrel I might believe you had no interest in the Rothmere fortune.’

‘If that is your only concern, you may sleep easily in your bed,’ Mooraven replied, a faint smile on his sensual lips. ‘I may run through my fortune once more if I suffer heavy losses at the table, but I have more sense than to gamble away my entire inheritance. I assure you I wish young William nothing but good fortune.’

‘I am an old woman,’ the dowager said. ‘I may not have long to live. Rothmere has no male relatives to care for him – except you, though you are in truth too far removed. I dare not hope that you would take an interest in his welfare?’

‘Should I hear of your unfortunate demise, which I hope may be some years distant, I would offer my help – such as it is. I should not have thought you would care to have your precious heir subjected to my influence?’

‘Needs must when the devil drives.’ She arched her brows at him. ‘Are all the stories true, Mooraven? I hear that you have ruined virgins, fleeced green youths at the card table and only God knows what else. A little wildness in youth is acceptable, but surely you have sown your oats by now? Where is your pride? You have good blood in your veins. Show a little decency. Marry and settle down before it is too late. If you continue this way no decent woman will have you.’

‘What makes you think it is not already too late?’ A faintly mocking smile played over his lips. ‘Do you not know that they say I have sold my soul to Lucifer?’

‘Do not be ridiculous! I should not believe such tales – but I do believe that you have ruined young women for I knew one of them. Miss Hazelton’s mother was once a friend of my daughter…’

‘Since you know me for the rogue I am, why should I deny it? All you need to concern yourself with, duchess, is that your heir is safe from me – and if need be, I shall be his guardian, if not his mentor.’

‘I thought the girl sly,’ the duchess said, surprising him. ‘I should not be surprised if she lied. Very well, I shall not ask for your confidence. You have given your word and I may rest easy in my mind.’

‘I trust you are not ill, ma’am?’

‘At the moment I am perfectly hale, sir.’

‘Then I may go to Paris with a clear conscience.’

Mooraven had kissed her hand and taken his leave. He sincerely hoped that it would be many years before he was called upon to keep his promise. His work was not yet done. He had an enemy to track down and bring to justice – justice for men foully betrayed. His brow darkened with anger as he thought of the years that he had borne the scorn of men who had once been his friends. They believed him a traitor or at the very least a drunken fool. Though provoked to bitterness and humiliated almost beyond bearing, he had never given them or anyone else a hint of the true story. Until he had found and punished the true traitor he must keep his silence.

Lost in his thoughts, Mooraven did not notice the woman until she knocked into him as she passed. The scent of her perfume alerted his senses and he turned his head to watch her leave the room. She was dressed in black, the most beautiful woman he had seen in an age – a woman who turned all heads.

He’d noticed her briefly earlier in the evening. She had been losing steadily at the tables all night and the glitter in her eyes had prompted him to ask his neighbour who she was.

‘She is the Countess Madeline Dupree,’ the man answered. ‘She was wed to a vile depraved brute who died of some unspeakable illness a few months ago. Until his death she was never seen in company. Now she comes regularly to parties where she can gamble. I lost a thousand francs to her one night. Couldn’t concentrate on my cards when she has such perfect flesh and that gown reveals more of her charms than a man can stand without ravishing her…’

Mooraven had smiled, because the gown dipped daringly to reveal a glimpse of her silken skin and breasts so full and perfect that they must have most of the men in the room lusting after her. A deliberate ploy to make them careless with their cards perhaps – though she seemed to be losing that night.

Why had she knocked into him so heavily? It was almost intentional…a sudden thought made him thrust his hand into his pocket to search for the purse of gold he’d carelessly thrust there when he rose from the tables. His searching fingers found nothing but his kerchief. The gold had gone. She had taken it! For a moment his senses reeled: the countess a thief? Impossible one would think and yet she had lost heavily at the tables.

His gaze narrowed as he went outside, looking for the woman in black. Ahead of him in the dimly lit Paris boulevard he could see her walking swiftly. A burly servant accompanied her but Mooraven’s instincts were alerted. Why had she no carriage? A woman of her breeding and wealth walking the streets with only one servant? He was a tall heavily built man and carried a stout cudgel – but she was still taking a huge risk. The jewels she’d been wearing about her neck had been worth a small fortune – if the diamonds in that collar were genuine, of course. The stones had sparkled enough in the candlelight, which gave him no cause to doubt their worth.

Why would a woman like that leave a card party in the house of a prestigious member of the French aristocracy, to walk home through the streets on foot? It didn’t make sense. He was certain she’d taken his purse and now his hunting instincts were aroused.

He wanted to know more about the mysterious lady in black.

Keeping to the shadows, Mooraven followed the woman and her bodyguard. It seemed that she had not far to go for after walking the length of three streets, the pair stopped outside a large and impressive house. The woman turned to her companion, clearly thanking him for his services. From their gestures, Mooraven thought she was telling him to leave her, but he was hesitating, arguing. After a moment or two he gave in and walked off. The door of the house opened and the woman went in.

Mooraven waited in the shadows until the giant had disappeared. He was about to approach the front door when it opened again and a figure came out. This time it was a youth, who walked swiftly in the same direction the countess’s servant had taken a few minutes earlier.

Mooraven drew back into the shadows, not wanting to be seen by the youth. Once he had disappeared, he approached the house and knocked at the front door. Countess Dupree had some questions to answer.

The knocker sounded eerily, as if the house were empty and now that he looked up at the windows above, he could see there were no lights. It was odd for a house like this would normally be filled with people and the windows would shed light into the street until they were shuttered for the night. He frowned and looked for a side entrance, but tall iron railings prevented entrance to the back of the house. Glancing about him to see if anyone was around, Mooraven then scaled the railings and jumped down into the dark passage at the side of the building. No light was coming from the windows of the house as he felt his way around to the back. A bank of clouds hid the moon and here the little light that came from lamps outside a few of the neighbouring houses was not sufficient to show him where he was going.

For a few minutes he could only feel his way but gradually his eyes became accustomed to the dim light and he could make out shapes sufficiently to find himself at a back entrance to the house, through what was obviously a conservatory.

There was not a single light in the house. Had the countess retired immediately? It was unusual not to leave at least one lantern burning somewhere. By morning the candle might have burned down, but at night there ought to be a few lights throughout the house. What kind of a house was this? Where were all the servants?

Mooraven’s instincts told him that he had stumbled on a mystery. Suddenly, a thought struck him. The youth he’d seen leaving the house – could that possibly have been the countess in disguise?

If she had courage enough to walk through the streets of Paris at night dressed in her finery with only one servant, she might dare to risk walking alone as a youth. While most would think the countess worthy of attention, a slight youth might pass unnoticed.

Why was she leading a double life? Why had she stolen his purse – and where was she going?

Mooraven was thoughtful as he stared up at the house. His business in Paris was already dangerous enough. He was using an assumed name. No one knew who he truly was or what he did and it must stay that way. He ought not to let himself be distracted from the business in hand, but his curiosity was aroused.

He knew he could not just walk away from this situation. He wanted to know more about the countess and what she was doing…

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Searching For Captain Wentworth - My New Book.

Sydney Gardens

Here's an extract from my new book which will be published in September - Searching For Captain Wentworth. Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion I've had a lot of fun writing this time travel book. It's a little different to my usual sequels, and is set both in the present and the past. Two of my favourite places in the whole world provide the setting - Bath and Lyme - I hope you enjoy this little taster!

On the day that the parcel arrived I didn’t really take much notice at first.
“Now, that’s what I call an interesting object,” my father said, putting the brown paper package before me on the kitchen table with a flourish. “It offers all sorts of possibilities from the exotic to the mundane.”
“Knowing my luck it’s more likely to be the latter,” I muttered under my breath, spearing the top of a boiled egg with my spoon to watch the golden yolk trickle in a glutinous trail down over the striped eggcup until it congealed in a pool on the blue plate. Aware that he was observing me closely I sensed his silent agitation as he waited for me to show some sign of interest.
“Full of mysterious promise is that parcel; I wonder what’s in it,” Dad persisted, watching me stab a toast soldier into the yolk until there was nothing left but porcelain egg white like the gleam of a fragile teacup. In an effort to appear uninterested he went to stand at the sink pretending to be busy. I heard him fill a bowl with steaming water knowing that I was being watched from the corner of his eye.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” he said at last, turning with a burst of curiosity.
I wasn’t in the mood. I couldn’t care less what was in the parcel, and I sighed before I could stop myself.
“Is anything wrong, love?” He put down the teacloth and the saucepan he was drying before sitting down on the chair next to mine. “You’re out of sorts, Sophie. Tell your old Dad. What’s the matter?”
Persuasion-Lyme Regis
The teacloth proved to be an object of fascination in that moment, as I avoided the answer, and his eyes, taking time to fold the fabric into a satisfying rectangle. Part of me was ashamed to be behaving like a petulant teenager; I was far too old for that, but the fact was I didn’t want to tell him everything because I knew that despite being truly sad for me, he would also be completely delighted, and I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing that in his face. The truth was that I’d had my heart irrevocably broken, smashed up like the brittle egg shell lying shattered in pieces on my plate. Everything I’d ever believed about Lucas, our relationship, and about our future together had finally been proved to be false. If I’m truthful, I’d always known that I would find myself sobbing into my breakfast one day, feeling bruised and abandoned. But, that it would come at such a spectacularly low point in my life I hadn’t fully considered. Actually, there were no more tears; I’d gone beyond the crying stage. I just felt completely numb. Telling my Dad who I knew would be pleased to be proved right about my philandering boyfriend was out of the question, so I blamed my mood on the horribly unsuccessful job interview of the day before, which was also true. All I had to do now was listen to murmurs of sympathy.
“I knew there was something, I could just tell,” he said, as he folded me into the warmth of his strong arms. “Don’t worry, Sophie, it’ll all turn out for the best. Besides, there’s a reason you didn’t get the job, it wasn’t meant to be, and I’ve always said, the right thing will come along just when it should. Be patient, time will tell.”
Dear Dad, that’s his answer to everything. Fate will play its hand. According to him, we cannot escape our destiny nor should we try. Still, it was nice to hear some sympathy even if I didn’t subscribe to his ideas about providence and divine intervention.
It wasn’t just the fact that Lucas and I had come to the end of what was inevitably going to happen anyway, I knew I had to face up to some uncomfortable facts. To be a writer had been my ambition since leaving university, but the manuscripts I’d sent out had always come back, the fat brown envelopes dropping back through the letterbox with the most depressing sound in the world. I’d had a few articles published, seen my name in print, and earned the princely sum in six years of what amounted to most people’s idea of a six month salary. Yesterday had been my first attempt into the world of work and a ‘proper job’. I hadn’t got it. So, what was I going to do now? I had no idea.
Steps up to Beechen Cliff, Bath
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Dad persisted, nodding at the package and producing a pair of scissors that he’d obviously had at the ready.
In a way, the thought of the parcel did cheer me up. I’ve always loved getting presents through the post, but I couldn’t see how this could possibly be anything that might improve the sense of hopelessness that was filling every thought in my mind, every pore of my being. I cut through the string and the brown paper layers wound round with so much sellotape that I’d almost lost the will to finish opening it before I managed to extract the most exquisite object I’ve ever received. It was a rosewood box inlaid with mother of pearl fashioned into simple scrolls and arabesques into the lid and along its sides. There was a small key in the lock, which on turning clicked satisfactorily to release the mechanism that secured it. When I look back now, I must admit I was immediately intrigued. The box was like no other I have ever seen or held since, and as it opened, the shades of the past seemed to whisper something in my ear as the heady fragrance of orange blossom and frangipani, rose from within its depths. Inside, I found a set of keys bound together with a blue striped ribbon, and a letter.

Jane Austen's House, Bath
Carhampton Dando
Dear Sophie,
How are you, my dear? I hope you are well! Your father’s last letter gave me all your news and I’m very pleased to hear that you are still writing!
I hope the box that you have opened will prove useful to you. There is nothing like a fresh place for inspiration and it crossed my mind that you might enjoy a break from your London life, so I am enclosing a set of keys to the house that my father’s family have owned in Bath since it was built, which is for far more years than I can remember. Your Grandmother and I spent our summer holidays there from school before travelling to the seaside in Dorset and Wales. Later on, we used to take your mother as a little girl and I think she enjoyed these visits very much until she was quite grown up, just before she met your father and the pleasures of Bath did not have such a hold.  
Unfortunately, the entire house is no longer at your disposal as it was divided up when my father wanted to lease out the lower floors. You will have the run of the upper floors, however, and I believe there is only one tenant now on the ground floor. It is some time since anyone in the family stayed in the house, and I’m afraid to tell you that there is not much in the way of modern conveniences, but I hope that this will not trouble you too much.
The location is particularly pleasing being next door to Jane Austen’s house in Sydney Place, a situation very well positioned for the gardens across the road and a five minute level walk to the shops. Do you know Jane Austen’s books? I think you would enjoy them.
I sincerely hope it will prove to be an inspiration for your writing and that you will enjoy as much fun as your namesake in Sydney Place. There was another Sophia Elliot who lived in the house once upon a time, and as a youngster, I remember reading her journal. Anyway, my dear, I know it would have pleased my dear sister, and indeed, her beloved daughter, to think that you might be able to enjoy a little holiday in the famous spa town. Have fun!   
Yours ever,
Great Aunt Elizabeth.
Jane Austen in Bath

I put the letter down and gave my Father a look that told him I wanted the truth.
“What have you been up to?” I asked quietly, “Exactly what have you been telling Great Aunt Elizabeth?”
His ears instantly tinged with pink as he admitted what I already suspected. “I’m worried about you Sophie, you’ve been moping about this house for too long. I admit, I did write and tell her what you’d been doing, but it was her suggestion that you go to Bath. To be honest, I’d forgotten there was a house, although your mother used to talk about it sometimes. Listen, I’ve a little money set aside. I want you to use it, and I know your Mum would have liked you to make the most of a trip to Bath. You could write that novel that you’re always saying you haven’t got time to do. What do you say?”
I couldn’t be cross with him. Anyway, it was a brilliant idea, and so generous of him. Besides, what else was I going to do? I didn’t want to hang around the house feeling completely depressed, or go out and experience the misery of bumping into Lucas and Lily in Camden High Street confirming the fact that they were seeing one another. I didn’t want that above everything else. At that moment I wanted to believe in all Dad’s nonsense about fate and destiny. To be as far away from London as I could get seemed a great idea, and Bath was a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time. In fact, ever since I’d read about it in Persuasion.
My favourite book has always been Jane Austen’s Persuasion and it’s been the comfort blanket of my life, which I know sounds a bit dramatic, but if ever I’m feeling fed up it’s my novel of choice. What I’ve always done when I can’t face the world is to retreat into its pages and spend some time with Captain Wentworth. Oh, I know how that sounds, and every one of my friends thinks I’m completely mad, but the truth is that Frederick Wentworth is my idea of the perfect hero, and let’s be honest, the idea of a man in uniform goes a long way to help numb those real twenty-first century feelings. 

© Jane Odiwe

Monday, April 23, 2012

"A Girl's Best Friend"

Ever since the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated by precious stones and metals and it’s no wonder - the sheer beauty of, for instance, a diamond sparkling in the light is undeniable!  It’s easy to see why primitive people would have considered them as gifts from the gods and worn them as amulets or talismans.  Even today, there are gemstones which are considered to either bring luck or be cursed, and when you look at something like the Koh-i-Noor diamond (once the largest known diamond in the world and said to be a cursed with bad luck for men who own it, but not women), I for one can totally understand this.  There is something both magical and evil in the way it draws your eye which one can well imagine would make people so greedy they’d want to kill to possess it!

Regency ladies obviously loved jewels as much as anyone and I’m sure most of our heroines would be very pleased to be presented with a “parure” (matching set) of jewellery of some kind, be it priceless diamonds, rubies or emeralds, or something made of lesser gemstones like garnets and amethysts.  I wouldn’t say no myself to any of those!

Most of the aristocratic families had heirloom sets of some kind and still do – there was a wonderful exhibition of tiaras for example at the Victoria & Albert Museum a couple of years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  And for an author, such heirlooms can of course play a vital part in our plots, especially after the year 1758.  That was when a Viennese man, Joseph Strasser, developed strass, a type of glass which could be mistaken (by someone who was not an expert) for diamonds.  It could be cut and was very similar in appearance.  What better way for an impecunious lord or lady than to have their real diamonds exchanged, secretly, for strass so that they could sell the real thing?  And then perhaps have to do everything they can not to be caught out …

For anyone wanting to do some research on gemstones, a visit to the Natural History Museum in London is a must.  Apart from the fact that the building itself is a wonderful example of Victorian architectural exuberance, with its ornate fa├žade, sculptures and gargoyles, it houses a huge collection of precious stones, rocks and minerals.  I can spend hours there, looking through the row upon row of glass cases up on the first floor.  In the so called Vault in a side room are some beautiful specimens and a collection of 296 naturally coloured diamonds – one of each colour that can be found.  These are displayed as a work of art in the shape of a triangle and called “The Aurora Pyramid of Hope” since they reflect the light just like the Aurora Borealis.  And the lighting changes from normal to ultraviolet, showing the viewer how they sparkle with different colours depending on the light.  It’s magical!

The museum has the largest ever cut topaz – 2,982 carats – from Brazil, which is amazing.  And in one display case you can see what the Koh-i-Noor looked like in its original form.  Its Indian Mogul-style cut wasn’t considered brilliant enough by Europeans so Prince Albert ordered it to be recut before Queen Victoria wore it.  This made it smaller, which is a shame, but both cuts looked beautiful to me, each in their own way.  (See photo above - Mogul cut on the left).  There is also another supposedly cursed stone, the “Cursed Amethyst” which was donated by someone called Edward Heron-Allen.  (Photo below)  He believed it was so evil he had it set in a special magical ring to neutralize its power!
Another must for anyone interested in gems is of course the Tower of London, where the fabulous Crown Jewels never fail to amaze.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen them now, but they are as fascinating every time.  For slightly “lesser” jewels (or perhaps I should say, jewellery which could possibly be affordable by ordinary people) I prefer to stroll along Old and New Bond Street and the nearby Burlington Arcade, where Regency ladies used to go too.  The shops there have some amazing examples of both new and antique jewellery, and being a historical author I, of course, prefer the antique ones.  It is always fun to speculate which of the lovely diamond earrings or bracelets one would buy, should one be lucky enough to win the lottery.  One day …

A few facts about jewellery and gemstones – “coloured stone” is apparently the trade term for all of them except diamonds (even those that have no colour).  They are valued according to their rarity and the most sought after are pure or flawless, ie. do not have any foreign matter or fissures inside them which could affect their transparency or “clarity”.  Colour, lustre, and iridescence play a part in grading them, with colour being the most important, and also the stone’s weight and size – its “carat”, a measurement used since early times.  Hardness (ie. its resistance or not as the case may be when you scratch it with something else) is also taken into account - the less valuable and not very hard gemstones are only “semi-precious”.  Diamonds are, of course, the hardest of all.

The cutting of coloured stones is called lapidary work, and the cutters (or lapidary) of gemstones are usually highly skilled and must know the different properties of the stones they work with.  They take into account the various characteristics of each stone before cutting them so as to get the best out of each one.  In ancient times, gemstones used to be decorated only by scratching figures, symbols and letters onto them.  Stone cutting as we know it now with facets didn’t develop until around the 15th century and there are lots of different types of cut.

Everyone talks about diamonds being “a girl’s best friend”, but as can be seen by the “Aurora” display, there are many different types and colours.  And personally, I prefer rubies – the most sought-after being the so called “pigeon’s blood” or pure red with a hint of blue.  Their fiery colour draws me in every time I see them.  Sapphires and emeralds are of course also beautiful, but for sheer colour, I think I like aquamarines and amethysts better.  We all have our preferences – if you had the money, what would you buy?  I’d love to know!

Highland Storms - winner of RoNA for Best Historical
The Silent Touch of Shadows - time slip, coming 7th July 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Because my books are set in C19th Cornwall, finding a subject and background that hasn’t already been explored, by me or others,  is not easy. But while I was re-reading a history of the packet service based in Falmouth, one line triggered a light-bulb moment. It mentioned trials of a new high-pressure boiler fitted to one of the first steam driven packet ships. 
For over fifty years the Post Office had run the packet service at a profit, the ships sailing to all parts of the globe carrying mail, bullion, passengers, and despatches to naval vessels. But the end of the wars with France threw scores of naval commanders and crews out of work.  To give them employment and ensure the country would have trained men available in the event of another conflict, the Admiralty pressured the government to transfer responsibility for the packet service to them.  Almost immediately it started losing money.  Instead of continuing to use locally built schooners that were fast, light, and able to cope with most wind conditions, the Admiralty insisted on replacing them with naval brigs. These were cumbersome and top-heavy.  In fact so many were lost during bad weather they became known as coffin brigs.
Desperate to get back into profit, knowing they needed faster voyages and a faster turnaround, the Admiralty decided to experiment with steam-driven ships. But initial trials were sabotaged by confusion and resistance. The engineers were civilians with no rank and therefore no authority, while the commanders and crew of the brigs knew nothing about engines and had no interest in learning. 
Early steam-driven marine engines powered paddlewheels fitted on either side of the ship. The Americans were ahead of Britain with this technology and were already using paddlewheel steamers to carry passengers and freight along the Mississippi and other rivers.
But rivers are smooth. The sea isn’t. Paddlewheels digging into ocean waves at different times and different depths resulted in a jerky waddling motion that made all but the strongest horribly seasick.
Another drawback to high pressure steam was that without regular careful maintenance the boilers had a tendency to explode. When this happened in a railway locomotive, only the driver and stoker perished.  But when a paddle steamer carrying two or three hundred people blew apart the loss and carnage were devastating.  
This set me thinking. Might there be a safer alternative? I found one. It’s amazing, and I’ll tell you more about it next time.

Jane Jackson.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Florence and the Grand Tour

A few weeks ago, I made my first ever trip to Florence. Fantastic art, and fantastic weather to view it in, as well. I don't think I have ever seen quite so many glorious male nudes in one place. A lot of them were from ancient Greece and Rome, of course, but many were not. I fell in love with Donatello's wonderful bronze of David in the Bargello museum.

And since the weather was terrific, we could eat out in the Piazza della Signoria and I could gaze, admiringly, at the beautiful lines of Michaelangelo's David, in the copy that stands outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

Just across from David stands Benvenuto Cellini's bronze of Perseus. Also stunning. Don't you think?

Regency folk couldn't travel to Italy, of course, because it was part of Napoleon's Empire. The Georgians did, however, as part of the Grand Tour. This (the Trinita bridge) is the sort of Florence they saw.

The taste for the Early Renaissance developed only in the nineteenth century, so there are few references to the masterpieces I went to Florence to see. Letters and diaries tell us more about Florentine society than its art.

Horace Walpole, arriving in Florence in the winter of 1739-40, wrote to Richard West of his enthusiasm for the Carnival:

"...I have done nothing but slip out of my domino into bed, and out of bed
into my domino. The end of the Carnival is frantic, bacchanalian; all
the morn one makes parties in masque to the shops and coffee-houses, and all
the evening to the operas and balls. Then I have danced, good gods! how I have danced!

"What makes masquerading more agreeable here than in England, is the great
deference that is showed to the disguised. Here they do not catch at those little dirty opportunities of saying any ill-natured thing they know of you, do not abuse you because they may, or talk gross bawdy to a woman of quality."

Robert Adam, doing the Grand Tour in the 1750s, also reported on Carnival:

"Every mortal masked, from a Marquis to a shoe-black traversing the streets from morning to night. The Corso is a procession of all the equipages in the country and town who go to the great square, ride round making a tour through some of the streets of the town, return to the square again -- one set going, another coming -- by which means those acquainted with the coach they meet, pop their heads out, say a witty thing and take them in again. This solemn procession, with our best coach etc, we used to parade in for two or three hours, that is from 3 to 6 o'clock, when night called us to other amusements."

Hester Thrale, doing the Grand Tour with her new husband in the 1780s, seems unconcerned by the riderless horse races that follow the Corso (and which sound, to modern ears, incredibly cruel):

"After the coaches have paraded up and down some time to show the equipages, liveries, etc, all have on a sudden notice to quit the scene of action, and all do quit it in such a manner as is surprising. The street is now covered with sawdust, and made fast at both ends; the starting--post is adorned with elegant booths, lined with red velvet, for the court and first nobility; at the other end a piece of tapestry is hung, to prevent the creatures from dashing their brains out when they reach the goal. ... At last come out the concurrenti without riders, but with a narrow leathern strap hung across their backs, which has a lump of ivory fastened to the end of it, all set full of sharp spikes like a hedgehog, and this goads them along while galloping worse than any spurs could do, because the faster they run, the more this odd machine keeps jumping up and down and pricking their sides... I never saw horses in so droll a state of degradation before, for they are all striped or spotted, or painted of some colour to distinguish them each from other; and nine or ten start at a time."

But not everything was to her taste. She complains of the noise in the Piazza del Duomo:

"... a dozen fellows crying ciambelli [little cakes] about the square, assisted by beggars, who lie upon the church steps and pray, or, rather, promise to pray, as loud as their lungs will let them, for the anime sante di purgatorio, ballad-singers meantime endeavouring to drown those clamours in their own, and gentlemen's servants disputing at the doors whose master shall be first served, ripping up the pedigrees of each to prove superior claims for a biscuit or macaroon..."

And she complains of the heat, too:

"The sun is so violent that I use no other method of heating up the pinching irons to curl my hair than that of poking them out at a south window with the handles shut in..."

Many of these comments tell us at least as much about British society of the time as they do about Florence.

I'm very glad that the Florence horse races no longer take place. And I shall stick to the art, I think. Especially those beautiful nudes...


Monday, April 09, 2012

History of Cricket

As many of you know I'm a cricket fanatic -everything stops when there's an international match on. So this month I thought I'd give you a brief history of the game. Don't vanish -it's not as boring as you think!
The earliest use of the word is in 1598 -crekett -  this could come from Middle Dutch or krick meaning a stick or old English cricc  meaning a stool. I've also heard it said the French invented the game and the word - although the idea of the French playing cricket is absurd.
The first mention of cricket in history is in Guildford in 1598 where it was played at The Royal Grammar School.
Collection of historical bats.
 Village cricket gained  in popularity and is played throughout the Civil War. In 1611 two men were prosecuted for playing on a Sunday instead of going to church. This is the earliest mention of adults playing the game.
Patronage of teams began in the 18th century as did gambling on the result. By 1725 rich patrons started their own teams in order to influence the outcome. 2nd Duke of Richmond, Sir William Gage, Alan Brodrick and Edward Stead  are the most notable among them.
Cricket spread to the colonies before it reached the north of England. It appeared in the West Indies and India in the first half of the century. It arrived in Australia in 1788 and had followed to New Zealand and South Africa by the Regency.
The Duke of Richmond and Alan Brodrick drew up the laws of cricket - called - Articles of Agreement - in 1728. In 1744 The Laws of Cricket were introduced and although modified are not a lot different today.

Print of an early game.
Cricket was abandoned during the Napoleonic Wars - the causes were lack of players and shortage of investment.
On June 17th 1815, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, British soldiers played a cricket match in the Bois de la Cambre park in Brussels. Ever since the park has been called, La Pelouse des Anglais, (the Englishmens's lawn.)
Strange to think only underarm bowling was allowed - I believe it was a woman who introduced 'round arm' bowling because she couldn't manage underarm wearing a crinoline!!
There - that wasn't so bad, was it?
best wishes

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Conservation work at Ashdown House

This season at Ashdown House we are offering tours up the scaffolding so that visitors can view the ongoing conservation work. Last week I had my training so that I can guide tour parties up to the 7th floor, which is a viewing platform above the roof. It was an exhilarating experience climbing so high above the outside of the house and looking down on the roof! Visitors are issued with hard hats and high visibility jackets and are well briefed before we start the climb up the outside staircase. No high-heeled shoes or flip-flops allowed!

The first stop on the tour is the 5th level to have a look at the work that is being done to replace the chalk stone blocks. Ashdown was built of chalk, the softest building material, and it has been melting away in the rain for the past 350 years! Last year the original quarry was re-opened in order to cut enough stone to replace the rain-damaged blocks. On one of these earlier stones the date 1756 is carved, evidence of repair work to the house in the Georgian period during the life of the 5th Baron Craven.

On the 7th floor visitors can walk all the way around the roof, looking down on the work to replace the Cotswold stone roof tiles and the 17th century cupola. This little octagonal dome originally had glass windows on four sides and painted trompe l’oeil scenes on the other four panels but it is being replaced with glass on all eight sides.

Lots of other fascinating bits of information have come to light during the conservation work and these illuminate the life of the house through 350 years of history. In peeling back the layers of paint on the interior walls of the staircase and landing we discovered that in the Restoration period they were painted a rich red colour that was very fashionable at the time. Similarly in the Victorian era the external bath stone quoins on the house were painted red. Not so tasteful!

We also know that repairs were made to the roof in 1927 because we found the odds on the Derby runners chalked up on a beam that was subsequently used in the repairs! Maybe the workmen had a sweepstake running on which horse would win.

Work on the house is still ongoing and I am sure there is much more to discover from the Restoration period through the Georgian and Regency to the Victorian and the 20th century. It’s a fascinating time to visit, not just to take the scaffolding tour but also to see the artefacts and hear about all the discoveries. If anyone is in the area and would like the tour, I’d love to show you round!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Blue Plaque Ceremony

On March 19th, shortly before 11 am, about three dozen people gathered in the small garden of 1 Eton Villas, Chalk Farm, London NW3. We were there to witness the unveiling of one of London’s famous blue plaques at the former home of the architect historian, Sir John Summerson. The plaque was hidden from view by a pair of red velvet curtains with a white wood pelmet bearing the English Heritage logo.

There was John Cattell from English Heritage, the architectural historian Gavin Stamp, who had initiated the installation, Tim Knox, curator of the Sir John Soane Museum, and other colleagues and friends. There were also a number of Summersons, including yours truly (he was my first cousin once removed) and two of Sir John’s triplet sons. His wife, Elizabeth, was the sister of the sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who married the artist Ben Nicholson. Barbara had also had triplets, and members of her family were there, too.
John Cattell gave a speech on the blue plaque scheme, and Gavin Stamp spoke about Sir John’s distinguished career which included being curator of the Sir John Soane Museum. Then Sir John’s secretary, Patricia Drummond, stepped forward. Rather frail now but looking immensely elegant in black high-heeled boots, a smart coat and Russian fur hat, she said a few words, then pulled the cord and the curtains opened revealing the blue plaque. We all clapped.

It was inspiring, moving, ever so slightly dotty in the nicest possible way and very English. Then we were ushered into a waiting coach and taken to the Sir John Soane Museum for a celebratory drink. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

There are over 800 blue plaques in London. The first one, to Lord Byron, was set up in 1867 by the Royal Society of Arts. The idea was to celebrate the link between the house and the person. There were no listed buildings at that date and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings was yet to be founded, so a secondary aim was to encourage the preservation of houses of historic interest.

Nowadays, the scheme is run by English Heritage and the selection process is rigorous. The person commemorated must have been dead for twenty years or passed the centenary of their birth, and eminent members of their profession must agree on the importance of their contribution. They must have lived or worked in the house for a significant period, and the house itself must have survived.

There is more information at together with an article about Sir John Summerson under Plaque News.

Photos: top to bottom. 1. The plaque, 2. 1 Eton Villas, 3. Patricia unveils the plaque, 4. Party at Sir John Soane Museum. 1-3, courtesy of English Heritage, 4. by Elizabeth Hawksley 

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


The threat of snow this week has reminded me again of this book, written for Robert Hale Ltd in 2004. It is set in the area of the Pennines where I live, and I based the title on the old English word "clough" (pronounced "cluff").  It is still used here in the north for a ravine, or a steep sided valley.  The Highclough Lady has just been released as an e-book by Regency Reads, so it is now available to a much wider audience.

Governess Verity Shore longs for a little adventure, then Rafe Bannerman arrives to carry her off to Highclough and Verity discovers that life can be a little too exciting! An estate the edge of the wild Yorkshire Moors, Highclough is Verity's inheritance, but she soon discovers that the land is coveted not only by her handsome cousin Luke but also by Rafe Bannerman and soon her very life is in danger…..

A lively tale of intrigue and romance in the turbulent final years of the eighteenth century

I used my own experiences of walking the children home from school along a dark, icy lane with the snow whipping into our faces as inspiration for Verity's journey to her new home, and the local architecture was the inspiration for artist David Young's beautiful cover for the original publication by Robert Hale, pictured here on the right..

I am currently in the process of setting up a new blog for my Sarah Mallory and Melinda Hammond books, where you can find lots of background information  and also extracts from my books, inlcuding one from The Highclough Lady. Please feel free to visit the site and poke around, like in a box of curiosities you might find in an attic.

Melinda Hammond

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Racing time travel?

Now, everyone knows racehorses go very, very fast, but when I was doing the research for my Newmarket Regency Fortunate Wager, I discovered something that made me wonder whether they can travel in time as well as over distance.

I was looking through the racing prints of the time - of which there are many -  and discovered this one by Henry Alken, produced in 1802. At first, I didn't notice anything strange. Driving around the streets of Newmarket, I am used to seeing strings of jockeys talking amongst themselves, laughing, arguing...

But... but is it me or is the rider in the lead TEXTING ON HIS MOBILE PHONE?

And even though it is the first of April, I promise this image hasn't been tampered with!

Jan Jones