Friday, July 27, 2012

Lady of Shadows/book 1 of the Sisters of the Ring Series

A Shocking Scandal, available at Amazon and All Romnces

You can find Lady of Shadows at various outlets, including amazon and MuseItUp, also All Romances and Barnes and Noble.

This is a strong Medieval Story with a touch of magic.

Here is an excerpt for you

The Castle of Penrith 1393

‘No, Mama, no.’ My terrified cries echoed from the stone walls of my mother’s chamber as Wenna tried to prise me free of her skirts. ‘Please do not make me go...’

From outside came the sounds of shouting, the roll of heavy wheels as they brought the great engines of war close to the castle walls, and the clash of wood thudding against the gates. Every now and then there was a fearsome roar as the attackers made a fresh assault on our walls, sending their fireballs into our courtyards, and then screams as our defenders poured burning oil down on their heads.

‘Go with Morwenna, child.’ Her voice calmed me as always. She stroked my hair, which was so like hers, flame-red and wild, with a will of its own. ‘You know that I do not wish to part from you, Rhianna, but I must stay for without me the men would not stand. I am the lady of Penrith and here I shall live or die.’

‘No, Mama. Let me stay with you. Please, do not send me away.’

She knelt down then, this mother I adored, this woman who was my rock and my world, and looked into my face.

‘You will go because I ask it of you, Rhianna, and because you must bear witness. You must remember what happened here and one day – one day you will take revenge for us all.’

Suddenly I could not hear the sounds of war; there was only silence and a soft warm breeze that swirled about us, holding us two alone in all the world.

‘Keep these for me, dearest,’ she said and drew over her head the necklace she always wore. Made of gold and heavy, it had a round medallion with strange markings. She placed it about my neck and it felt warm where it had lain against her breast. Into my hand she pressed a small journal. ‘These things are important, Rhianna, and one day you will know why.’

‘Please let me stay with you.’

My pleading was in vain. Her eyes held that proud stubborn expression that meant she would yield to no one. My mother was the lady of Penrith. Her word was law and her people obeyed her. To me she was the most powerful person in the world and I adored her.

‘You will go as I bid you. Tonight is the night of the crimson moon. If you see it you will know that we shall not meet again in this life. It is not given to everyone to see such a terrible sight but I have seen it and so will you. One day you will take my place here and you will know all the things I should have taught you had I been granted time. You will know that sometimes we must all do things we would not wish because it is our duty.’

I tried to cling to her once more but she pushed me back and stood up.

‘Whenever you see a crimson moon it means that something evil has taken place. Remember that, my daughter. Remember that you are the child of Rowena Morgan and that the power will be yours when the time is right.’

What did she mean? Others spoke of my mother having the sight or the power of healing, but what did that mean? I was but eleven years of age and to me Lady Rowena Penrith was the most powerful person in the world. Her beauty was fabled and her voice had the lilt of the valleys.

‘Yes, Mama. One day I shall take revenge for what has happened here. One day I shall kill the Earl D’Auvergne.’

Her laughter was soft and delicious like thick warm honey. ‘If you were a man I should tell you to kill him, to take a life for a life – but you will be a woman and a beautiful one. Always remember that a woman has other weapons, and sometimes a smile can be sharper than the thrust of a sword.’

‘I shall remember everything you have told me. I love you...’

Wenna’s tore me from my mother’s side and held me firmly clasped against her.

‘We must go or it will be too late. They have started to break through.’

‘Take her and protect her with your life, I beg you. My father is dead but my brother is a decent man and he will take her in for my sake.

‘I shall protect her but I wish you would come with us, my lady.’

‘I must stay for as long as I am needed, to give courage to my people. I am theirs and they are mine but I would have my daughter safe. Sir James Morgan will take my child and perhaps one day her father will return to claim her.’

‘He should never have deserted you to fight foreign wars.’ Morwenna scowled. ‘I do not know why you stayed with him these many years.’

‘Because I loved him, as I love my land and my people – and my child.’

Wenna took me then, dragging me from the tower room down the twisting stair that led to the great hall. The huge room with its vaulted wood roof was usually a hive of activity, filled with servants busy about their work or my mother’s ladies, visiting knights and pilgrims who stopped here on their way to some shrine or a great church. Today it was empty, stripped of the weapons that hung upon the walls

Everyone was outside, up on the walls or at the foot of ladders, helping to send cauldrons of boiling pitch up to the battlements so that it could be hurled down on the enemy.

The enemy was the English. Led by the Earl D’Auvergne they had demanded that my mother hand over the castle to them but she had refused and now they were intent on breaking down our defences. My mother had taught me that the Welsh had fought for years to drive the English from our lands. She had told me of stirring battles and victories, of a time when the great English King Henry 111 had been sent scurrying back to London with his tail between his legs.

‘Why do kings have tails, Mama?’ I asked in my innocence.

Mama laughed and said that one day I would understand what she meant. She had taught me about the struggle that had gone on for many years between our two nations. The people of Wales had ever been of a rebellious spirit. Even the Romans had found it difficult to subdue our people and in the end there had been a kind of truce between us, a respect for an unquenchable spirit.

Always, she had made me wish to learn and my earliest memories were of standing at her knee as she told stories. I learned of great battles won in Wales and much more.

‘You must learn everything, Rhianna,’ she told me. ‘One day you will need your knowledge to help others.’

‘As you do, Mama?’

‘Yes, child.’ She stroked my hair. ‘Now listen for this is important. Some years after those far off victories against the great King Henry 111, a time of darkness fell over England.’

‘Darkness, Mama? Did the sun not shine?

‘It was a great shadow stretching over the whole of Europe and beyond to far and unimaginable places. The plague or the Black Death, as it was often known, killed thousands of people. It first visited England in 1348 after wreaking havoc in the Low Countries, Italy and France, visiting first in Bristol and then spread throughout the land. Whole families died of the foul disease, sometimes everyone in the village. It changed the way people lived, bringing the beginning of the end of the old feudal system that had existed since the Normans first conquered England.’

My eyes widened in wonder.

‘What happened then, Mama?

‘The plague has visited less frequently of late they say, though people still fear it. In 1349 it came here to Wales, but in the valleys, we have never suffered from it as much as the English in their towns and cities.’

‘Why is that, Mama?’

‘The English are ungodly. The plague is sent by God to punish sinners, as is leprosy – though ‘tis not often we see a leper these days. Once there were lazar houses everywhere but in England they have turned them into infirmaries for the sick.’

‘If the English are so wicked, why does Father fight for the English king?’

‘Your father is not a rich man, Rhianna. He must answer to his overlord. The Earl of Pendraga makes the alliance for his own ends. He is my husband’s father and a great man, a loyal servant of the King. These things are not always as simple as they would seem, my love. For the moment the Welsh lords must bend the knee but one day a prince will come and then we shall see great events. For a time at least a Welsh prince shall rule in Wales.’

‘How do you know, Mama?’

‘I know because it has been sung of in the hills and valleys. Merlin foretold it long ago.’

What was she thinking? What had brought that secret, intimate smile to her lips?

‘Who is Merlin, Mama?

‘The Merlin of legend was the greatest sorcerer of all time. He lived when King Arthur and his knights sat in Camelot and the world was a magical place.’

Again the smile was there.

Mama was the fount of all knowledge, my teacher and my protector. Without her my world would crumble into dust.

As Wenna hurried me to the chapel, I wished that Merlin would come and save us. If I had the power Mama had spoken of I should be able to conjure him up and drive the English from our walls, but nothing happened, though I called to him with my heart.

Why did he not help me? I wanted to stay in the castle with my mother. She had said that if there was a crimson moon I would never see her again in this life. I prayed with all the passion that was within me that there would be no moon that night.

Shouting and screaming was all around us, the stink of burning wood in the air, making me gag as Wenna thrust me before her into the chapel. Gargoyles and grotesques looked down on us as we approached the altar. I dare not look for I knew there was a terrible painting of the Dance of Death, which was meant to warn sinners of their likely fate. The priests preached of the torments of Hell and I feared the devil would take my soul and cast me into his fiery pit. Mama’s stories of the struggle between good and evil and of magic had become muddled in my mind with Heaven and Hell. With her I had always been safe and protected but alone I should be at the mercy of demons.

‘The passage is here somewhere,’ Wenna told me, running her hands over the altar as she searched for and found what she needed beneath the tall silver cross. The heavy stone altar swung out to reveal a dark cavern behind it. As I caught the damp musty odour, I hung back. Surely, it was the mouth of Hell?

‘It is dark and there will be spiders. I want to stay with Mama.’

Wenna had lit one of the candles from the small flame that was always kept burning on the altar. She held it in her left hand as she reached for me with her right. Her face looked pale in the yellow light and for the first time I realised that she too was afraid.

‘We must go now, child. Your mother wants you to live. Remember that one day you must take revenge for what happens here this night.’

Her hand caught and held mine. I screamed as she dragged me inside that dark stinking cavern. Her grip tightened and though I tugged at her she would not let go. I screamed again twice as she pressed a lever and the heavy altar swung back into place, shutting us in.

Terror swept over me. We must be in the caverns of Hell. I screamed hysterically.

‘Stop that!’ Wenna slapped me hard. ‘I doubt you will be heard but there’s no time for tantrums. We must go. If the enemy break through terrible things may happen. We should not be here.’

Tears trickled down my cheeks. It was very cold and dark here. Why could I not have stayed safe in my mother’s arms?

Wenna’s grip on my hand loosened. She held the candle aloft so that it lit the dark corners and we could see a narrow passage.

‘That is the way we must go,’ she said. ‘Be brave, Rhianna. You are the daughter of a lord and the granddaughter of an earl. Lady Rowena Penrith is your mother. She may have married your father unwisely but she remains one of our people – the Morgan family - though your father be English.’

‘What am I, Wenna? My mother is from the valleys like you – but my father is a Marcher lord on the English side. Where does my allegiance lie?’

‘You can ask that? Has your mother taught you nothing? She is Welsh and so you are too. You must not forget what the English have done this day.’ She moved towards the tunnel, then looked back at me. ‘I shall lead and you must follow.’

I was reluctant to leave the castle and all that I knew but Wenna was leaving me, taking the light. I hurried after her, catching her cloak.

The walls were damp to the touch and the cold seemed to seep into your bones. After a while the candle flickered and went out and we had to feel our way forward blindly. In places Wenna was forced to bend almost double because the roof was so low, and twice I heard her curse because she had struck her head against the rock. We were beneath the surface of the ground, locked in an endless darkness that went on and on forever.

How long it took us to reach the other end remains a mystery. To me it seemed an eternity. Several times I felt something sticky brush my face and cried out in fear. Wenna did not falter or turn to look at me.

When eventually we saw a pinprick of light ahead of us, Wenna gave a cry of relief and hurried forward. I ran to keep up with her, stumbling in my haste and anxiety not to be left alone in this terrible darkness. We had reached a place where the rock narrowed to a crack that was hardly wide enough for a grown man to pass. It looked as if some of the rock had fallen, partially obscuring the exit. Wenna managed to get out after a lot of squeezing and complaining, and then I slipped through easily.

Dusk was beginning to fall. We had come out in what was clearly the ruin of an old monastery or perhaps one the lazar houses that had fallen into disuse with the decline of that dread disease. Its ruined walls were covered in lichens and moss and it frightened me for there was an air of foreboding. We were some distance from the castle but it stood on a mound looking out towards the Welsh Marches, dark and brooding against the sky. We could see it because the night sky had turned red. Flames were shooting into the air and the stench of burning carried even here.

‘Mama,’ I cried. ‘We must go back. The castle is on fire. We must save her.’

‘It is too late,’ Wenna warned. ‘Do not be foolish, child. We could not go back through the tunnel for the candle has burned down and I could not open the door to the chapel.’

‘Mama! I should never have left her alone. I want my mother. I want my mother...’

‘She wanted you to leave,’ Wenna said and grabbed my arm as I would have made a dash for the tunnel. ‘There is nothing you can do, Rhianna.’

As I stood staring back at the castle I suddenly saw two figures on the battlements. The wooden roof of the great hall was blazing, as were other parts of the castle. The figures were outlined against the crimson sky, a woman and a man, and they were fighting. The man seemed to be trying to hold the woman but she would not be held. She broke free of him and then somehow she either fell or flung herself over the edge. The man reached out as if to grab her but he was too late to catch her.

I was too far away to hear the scream but it echoed in my head. I knew it was my mother screaming. The sound was shrill and terrible, and, as I looked up, I saw that the moon had turned to red.


I screamed her name over and over again.

Mama...Mama, why...why did you do that? Why did you leave me?’

‘She is at peace now,’ Wenna said and reached for me. I shook my head and tried to break from her, kicking her and punching her as the grief poured out. ‘There, there, my lovely, ‘tis over now...’

I lifted my head and looked into her eyes.

‘It is not over,’ I said. ‘Now it begins...’

Then I collapsed into her arms.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gretna Green

There are some place names that instantly evoke an image in your mind and Gretna Green is definitely one of them for me.  Ever since I read my first Georgette Heyer books, some of which feature elopements across the border, I had a picture in my mind of the place where such clandestine marriages were performed.  However, it doesn’t quite correspond to the reality …

I first went to Gretna Green about twenty-five years ago on a very bleak and rainy autumn day.  My husband and I had been on a week’s holiday in Scotland and on the way home I insisted we stop at Gretna.  Having read so much about this romantic location, I just had to see it for myself, but I was sorely disappointed.  The blacksmith’s shop itself was sort of the way I’d imagined it, but the surrounding buildings had been turned into a tourist attraction and all I remember of that visit are busloads of people milling around and shops selling tartan.  I went home thoroughly disillusioned.

Fast forward to the present - last week I happened to be in that area again, visiting a friend in Dumfries and I thought I’d take the opportunity to go and see whether things had changed in Gretna.  I figured perhaps I’d been a bit harsh in my judgement all those years ago.  Also, last time I went, I wasn’t an author, and I wondered whether I could now recapture more of the romance by using my imagination a bit better.  Fortunately, this turned out to be the case.

Although it’s still very “touristy”, I really enjoyed my visit this time.  In my mind’s eye, I stripped away all the shops, souvenirs and people and imagined myself as a runaway heiress, arriving in Gretna after a long and no doubt nerve-racking drive north, my irate father or brother hot on our heels.  The old smithy (situated in the rooms which now house the exhibition that tells the story of the marriages) would have seemed like a very welcome haven, and after a hurried ceremony performed by the blacksmith, I could see myself and my new husband staggering to the nearest inn to celebrate.  The relief of success would have been sweet!  Or perhaps I’d wake the next day to a mountain of regrets and a lover who’d only wanted me for my money?  Either way, I’m sure I would never forget the place where it all happened.

The weather was lovely, bathing the buildings in sunshine and dispelling some of the gloom I’d encountered last time.  I enjoyed wandering round the exhibition, reading all about how these marriages first began after the 1754 Marriage Act was introduced.  The strict laws this brought scuppered many plans and it’s no wonder young couples in love chose to defy everyone and run away to Scotland, where a marriage by ‘handfasting’ (declaring your intent to wed in front of two witnesses) remained legal until 1940.  I was amused to see no less than three anvils, although the one in this photo claimed to be the original Gretna anvil.  And although you have to marry at the registry office first these days, there are still ceremonies performed in the blacksmith’s shop, as I saw firsthand.  A bride wandered around outside while a piper, complete with kilt and bearskin hat (!), played the bagpipes.  It felt very special and I almost regretted my own conventional marriage in a church.

All in all, I came away feeling much happier and I’ll now be able to use this location in my stories, should I need it, because I can imagine it as it once was.

Are there any places you’ve visited, which completely ruined your imagined picture of them?  Or others that were just as you’d thought they would be?  I’d love to know!


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Oh I Do Love To be Beside the Seaside!

I will be on holiday when you read this, which made me think of how the early 19th century saw the first flourishing of the English love of the seaside holiday.

This charming little rough sketch is a tiny detail at the foot of a fashion print and yet it shows people enjoying the beach in a way that seems entirely modern. Two ladies stroll away from us, deep in conversation. Another pair walk their dog and someone is taking the air in a donkey cart. In the distance you can just make out two tiny bathing huts, one of them flying a flag.

Everyone in this little sketch seems sensibly dressed for their walk in the sea air, but the fashion prints themselves show great interest in the most up to date outfit and, fashion being what it is, some of these are extreme to put it mildly.

Who, setting out to scramble over rocks with a telescope, dresses like this lady in an 1809 print for La Belle Assemblee? (Left) I can't help wondering if she had spotted the gentlemen's bathing beach!

On the right is a rather more practical outfit from Ackermann's Repository in the 1820s - but there is still the telescope and the rather guilty look!

The gentlemen, of course, made no bones about viewing the ladies bathing and telescopes were deployed all along the front in Brighton. I don't think it can have been a very titillating sight if this print of a Yorkshire seaside scene is anything to go by. The unfortunate bather looks perished with cold and the bathing machines are very utilitarian.

If you are taking a seaside holiday this year I hope the sun shines for you!

Louise Allen

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A different slant on history

Ever thought about how the army of the Austrian Empire actually worked?

Last month, I visited the military museum in Vienna in the old Arsenal building.  It's well worth a visit if you're ever in Vienna and interested in history.

It also has a good website at from which you can download information sheets in English (and 9 other languages, to boot).

Among the fascinating exhibits from our period was this:

It was used by military doctors in the army of the Austrian Empire.  I hadn't thought about it before, but of course the Austrian Empire included lots of different countries and ethnic groups with their own languages.  So an Austrian army doctor might be faced with an injured soldier, from his own side, who spoke no German, just Czech, or Italian, or Serbo-Croat or one of the other minority languages.  In such a case, the doctor would turn to his trusty manual and find the appropriate question in Czech, or whatever.

An example is number 159.  The original question, in German, is "How do you feel?  Good or bad?"  If the doctor wanted to ask that, he had many languages to choose from, as shown at the bottom of each column.

I do find myself wondering what he did with the answers, though, and how much of them he could understand.  Still, sign language probably helped.

The second book was issued to field officers so that they could give orders to the troops or ask questions.

This book also, interestingly, provides both written and spoken versions of the foreign languages.  So, taking the first line as an example, the German-speaking officer could use "Hey, you!  Stand still!" in the original German, in printed or spoken Polish, printed or spoken Ruthenish (a forerunner of modern Ukrainian), or printed or spoken Russian.

Seeing these two small books totally changed my view of the Austrian army.  It hadn't occurred to me before that it was a polyglot army and that there must have been huge difficulties of communication between the troops from the various countries of the Empire.

Imagine giving orders in the middle of a battle.  Someone has to look up the translations in the book, but there's so much gunsmoke around that you can't really read the words, and the messenger is waiting to take the dispatch to the troops on the ground...  It gives the "fog of war" a totally new meaning.

Isn't history fascinating?  Can't you feel just what it would be like to be there?


Monday, July 09, 2012

Miss Bannerman & The Duke

Miss Bannerman & The Duke
My eleventh Linford Romance was released this month. I love the cover- but then I love all their covers.

A marriage of convenience to Peregrine, the Marquis of Bentley, is the only way Rose Bannerman can save her family from ruin- her twin, Millie, is too sensitive for such an undertaking.
However, Rose finds Perry arrogant and proud, while he thinks Rose pert and impolite. He considers Millie a more suitable bride but when Rose takes her sister's place, her actions compromise them both. The Duke is obliged to offer an arrangement neither party is happy with...

It's the RNA conference this weekend - it will be the first one I've  missed for years. I hope there will be lots of news and pictures up here next week.
best wishes
The Duke's Reform available on Amazon.
TRUTH (Glimmering) available on Amazon.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Basildon Park and The "English Hindoostan"

This week I visited Basildon Park in Berkshire. Basildon is a stunning late 18th century country house in the Palladian style with fashionable Adam interiors. It was built between 1776 and 1783 for Sir Francis Sykes, a nabob who had made his money in the East India Company and wanted to have a country house that reflected his wealth and grandeur. Basildon isn’t huge and has quite an intimate atmosphere and it is absolutely gorgeously decorated.  All the reception rooms are designed to impress the visitor, from the entrance up a double flight of steps into the central hall, to the grand staircase lit from above, to the octagonal drawing room and long, pillared dining room. Basildon Park was the location for filming the Netherfield scenes in Pride and Prejudice and visiting it gave me a fine idea of what a grand country house would look like and also feel like to visit as a guest in the early 19th century. 

Something I learned about Basildon Park from my visit was that it was part of a group of properties referred to as “the English Hindoostan” because so many of Sykes’ fellow nabobs lived in the vicinity, having either built or acquired properties in the area. One of the reasons for this was that the nabobs were an isolated group, disliked for their wealth and their nouveau riche lifestyle, and so they tended to gravitate towards one another socially and lived in the same geographical area. In Berkshire there were at least 30 houses associated with nabobs. Of these the most famous was Warren Hastings, Governor-General of India, who lived at Purley Hall. Another, General Richard Smith of Chilton Foliat, was said to epitomise everything the Ton disliked about nabobs. He was loud, pretentious, arrogant, extreme in his politics, extravagant and a shocking gambler.

Other notorious nabobs in the area included Thomas “Diamond” Pitt, grandfather of William Pitt who lived at Swallowfield. He gained his nickname from his habit of collecting enormous diamonds, one of which, The Regent’s Diamond, was sold to the Duke of Orleans, added to the French Crown and is now in the Louvre.  It was valued at almost half a million pounds in 1791.

At Caversham Park, where I also visited this week, the landowner Major Charles Marsack was the illegitimate grandson of King George II and at Foxley’s Manor in Bray there was Henry Vansittart, Governor of Bengal, who was involved in the famous Hellfire Club of Medmenham Abbey. All these extraordinary characters are rich inspiration for a writer! On a final literary note: Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist was rumoured to be based on the character of Sir Francis Sykes’ grandson!

Nicola Cornick

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Waltzing into Battle

La Marche

A book I am revisting at present is Nick Foulkes' "Dancing into Battle", a social history of Waterloo, with insights into what the armies were doing when not actually firing at each other!  One of the little snippets it mentions is that the British Officers spent much of their time in Brussels learning  or brushing up on their dancing, especially the quadrille and the waltz.

As a writer of romance, dancing is a great way to get the hero and heroine together, and the waltz would seem to be a perfect dance - but the waltz these British officers were learning was certainly not the chest-to-chest twirling dance we have come to think of. I researched this for one of my Melinda Hammond books, Dance for a Diamond, and found it quite fascinating.

The origins of the waltz are obscure.  Some sources claim it comes from the Italian Dance the volta (which had been danced at the court of Queen Elizabeth) others from the German folk-dance the Landler.  It made its appearance at Almack’s in 1812 but was not universally accepted, and as late as 1816 the Times was protesting against the “voluptuous intertwining of the limbs.”  But it was nothing like the dance we know today. Just look at these drawings from the time. 

The early form of this dance began with a slow movement, “la Marche”, followed by the quicker “Sauteuse” and ending with the “Jetté”, an energetic third movement which included the twirling and pirouetting we associate with the waltz today. These drawings from the dance manual looks quite tame, but the caricaturists of the time put quite a different spin on it (excuse the pun) - take a look at the colour print at the end of this blog!


Attitudes were definitely changing, but until the early 1800s dancing for the English gentry and upper classes was restricted to the country dances and formal courtly processions, with no more than handholding between the sexes.  Think of the scandal then when the waltz hit town.  Suddenly the man and woman were embracing on the dance floor, spinning round the floor, their bodies actually touching.  Is it any wonder that society tried to keep such indecent behaviour out of the ballrooms?


Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

Coming soon from Sarah Mallory - The Illegitimate Montague - one of theCastonbury Park Series