Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inspired by Art

Inspiration for authors can take many forms, but for me, the visual kind is usually the best.  I love watching movies or TV programmes, where the characters often spark ideas in my mind.  But there is something else that really inspires me too - art.

I’m very lucky to have access to London’s many art galleries and over the years they have put on some fabulous exhibitions.  My favourites so far have included Anthony Van Dyck, Lord Frederick Leighton and John Everett Millais, all artists who were able to depict their subjects in almost photographic detail.  I especially love Van Dyck’s portraits as they really show the sitters’ individuality, but I’m also fascinated by Leighton’s imaginary but exotic scenes and Millais incredible attention to detail when it comes to nature.  Also, the sensuous silk clothing they often portray make you want to reach out and touch the canvases and have me imagining my heroes and heroines dressed that way.

Recently, I went to yet another fabulous exhibition at the Tate Britain – ThePre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde.  As I’m a huge fan of Victorian paintings, I knew I was in for a treat, but I had no idea just how wonderful it would be!

The so called Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) was founded in 1848, a turbulent time in England and a time of change.  The PRB members felt that with the coming of the machine age, much of the beauty and spirituality of life had been lost and they wanted to fight against this.  At first, it was a secret brotherhood, and they refused to tell anyone what the initials PRB on their canvases meant, but eventually they explained.  They seem to have begun by drawing each other and I enjoyed seeing these early portraits.  The one of Dante Gabriel Rosetti as a young man reminded me of Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen (English artist and interior decorating guru) and some of the others were rather dashing.

The PRB admired the freshness of early Renaissance work, but still wanted their paintings to be modern.  They also admired painters like Theodor von Holst and William Dyce – the Tate exhibition had works by both of these which I had never seen before.  One in particular, depicting King Joash shooting the arrow of Deliverance (from the Book of Kings in the Bible) was truly amazing!  Whoever Dyce used as his model for King Joash would have been welcome as a hero in one of my books any day!

(Ophelia - Picture courtesy of Wikipedia)
What I like most about the Pre-Raphaelite painters is their attention to detail (see for example John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia, where every blade of grass, every flower, every watery swirl is lovingly painted; or the dogs in his paintings Isabella and Order of Release, one a very lifelike greyhound and the other a Jacobite’s mongrel whose fur looks so soft you want to touch it).  Then there are the incredibly vivid colours they used, as in William Shakespeare Burton’s A Wounded Cavalier or Millais’ A Huguenot, both quite stunning.

(Maria Zambaco - Picture courtensy of Wikipedia)
When it comes to inspiration for writing, however, it would be difficult to beat what I call the “hair” paintings some of the PRB members produced.  They all appear to have been fascinated by women with very thick, wavy or curly hair, preferably blonde or flame coloured, but also some dark shades.  Rosetti’s Monna Vanina and Lady Lilith (both of which used the model Fanny Cornforth as his muse) – with masses of gleaming golden tresses, are a perfect illustration and could inspire a historical heroine.  The same goes for his vision of Fiammetta and the darkly stunning Astarte Syriaca.  George Frederick Watts Portrait of Edith Villiers is of a beautiful natural blonde and Edward Burne-Jones’s Maria Zambaco is the ideal brunette beauty, with her enormous eyes and graceful neck.

In fact, there were so many incredible paintings I had to go back and see the exhibition three times and it was lucky I had a pen and paper with me!  Just the sight of all those shining tresses gave rise to quite a few ideas …  Are there any paintings that have inspired you?  I’d love to know!

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the New Year!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Yorkshireman in London 1816

I found this poem in a copy of La Belle Assemblee for February 1816 and I thought it such fun that I'm sharing it here.
For those who aren't familiar with the term "Tyke" is slang for either a cross-bred dog, or a Yorkshireman, or a naughty boy - as in, 'Stop that this minute, you little tyke!' And for anyone not familiar with Yorkshiremen, let me assure you they don't take kindly to being taken for idiots, as this tale tells.
Temple Bar, now moved to St Paul's Churchyard

 Temple Bar marked the boundary between the City of London (where Fleet Street ends) and the City of Westminster (where the Strand begins) and has now been moved close to St Paul's Cathedral. Mansion House is the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and Pidcock's bears is a reference to Pidcock's Menagerie, improbably situated on an upper floor of the Exeter Change in the Strand. Billingsgate was the principal fish market of London,

It happen'd once that a young Yorkshire clown,
But newly come to far-fam'd London-town,
Was gaping round at many a wond'rous sight,
Grinning at all he saw with vast delight,
Attended by his terrier, Tyke,
Who was as sharp as sharp may be;
And thus the master and the dog, d'ye see,
Were very much alike.

The portico of Mansion House looking towards Cornhill

After wand'ring far and wide,
And seeing all the streets and squares,
And Temple-bar, and Pidcock's bears,
The Mansion-house, the Regent's Park,
And all in which your cocknies place their pride;
After being quizz'd by many a city spark,
For coat of country cut, and red-hair'd pate,
He came, at length to noisy Billinsgate;
He saw the busy scene with mute surprise,
Opening his ears and eyes
At the loud clamour and the monstrous fish,
Hereafter doom'd to grace full many a dish.

Pidcock's (also known as Polito's) Menagerie

Close by him was a turbot on a stall,
Who, with stretch'd mouth, as if to gasp for breath,
Seem'd in the agonies of death:
Said Andrew, “Pray what name d'ye that fish call?"
“A turbot, 'tis,” (said the sarcastic elf)
“A flat, you see - so something like yourself."
“ D'ye think," said Andrew, “that he'll bite?"
“Why," said the fellow, with a roguish grin,
"His mouth is open; put your finger in,
 And then you'll know." – “Why,” replied the wight,
“I shouldn’t like to try; but here's my Tyke
Shall put his tail there, an' you like."
Billingsgate Fish Market with fighting fishwives

“Agreed," rejoin'd the man, and laugh'd delight.
Within the turbot's teeth was plac'd the tail,
Who bit it too, with all his might;
The dog no sooner felt the bite
Than off he ran, the fish still holding tight;
And though old Ling began to swear and rail,
After a number of escapes and dodgings,
Tyke safely got to Master Andrew’s lodgings;
Who, when the fisherman in a passion flew,
Said, “Master, Lunnon tricks on we wont do
I've come from York to queer such flats as you;
And Tyke, my dog, is Yorkshire too!"
Then laughing at the man he went away,
And had the fish for dinner that same day.

A wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Buzz of Authors

I wish I’d thought of this very apt definition, but it was actually coined by a writer friend of mine when we went to the annual Christmas Soiree at The Falmouth Bookseller on Wednesday evening.  The proprietor, Ron Johns is terrifically supportive of local authors. So when invitations are issued we emerge, blinking, from our sheds, offices and studies, reluctant to leave the work-in-progress, but wanting to support one of the few remaining independent booksellers.  Ron is a very astute man. Not only has he branched out into publishing – his Soggy The Bear books are hugely popular - he is also moving into older children’s fiction. And, in the spirit of if you can't beat them, join them (or perhaps keep your friends close and your enemies closer)  he has also started selling e-readers and ebooks.

When we arrived for the soiree I did what I – and all the writers I know - do: looked around hoping desperately to see someone I knew.  Writers spend most of each day alone, though only in the physical sense. In fact we are in the world of our characters, living their adventures, disasters and love-affairs, which is both exhilarating and exhausting. Being essentially solitary, most of us find walking into a room full of people quite difficult, hence the search for a familiar face. As it happened I saw two people I knew and hadn’t seen for a while: Les Merton, who writes Cornish poetry and prose, and whose books on Cornish dialect are both informative and hilarious; and Sue Jackson, whose collection of Cornish walks previously featured in Cornwall Today has recently been published in book form. An accomplished journalist she also writes novels, and is on tenterhooks at the moment waiting to hear from an agent who asked for three chapters and a synopsis. It was lovely to catch up with their news, and to share mine. 

Les introduced me to Cheryl, a writer from Australia who has written a history of Cornwall. And I introduced the writer friend who accompanied me to everyone I knew. Rebecca, one of Ron’s sales assistants came round with a tray of home-made Christmas cake, mince pies and other nibbles to help soak up the wine or soft drinks we had been offered as we walked through the door.

I hadn't seen Rebecca for a while. But I didn't realise quite how long it had been until I reminded her about a lunch Ron had hosted at the restaurant next door after a signing session for Jean Stubbs, EV Thompson and me, when she’d had to leave early to feed her baby.  She grinned and told me that baby son is now fourteen-years-old, and she also has another son of twelve. This is one of the lovely things about people in the writing world. You may not see each other for years, but when you meet up again you just pick up where you left off.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  I wish I had remembered to take my camera.

Wishing my fellow bloggers and all our visitors a very happy Christmas. Here's to good health, happiness, and success in all your ventures in 2013.

Jane Jackson

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas books for Regency kids

In the Regency and Georgian periods, children often received "Christmas Boxes" containing money on Christmas Day.  Those must have been the most welcome gifts of all (as they still are).  Certainly preferable to some of the "Juvenile Books" on offer in the Regency period which sound to have been "improving" to the juvenile mind but probably boring in the extreme.

In my 1818 Edinburgh Almanack (for which I am very grateful to fellow author Louise Allen), I find the following "Juvenile Books" prominently advertised:

History of Little Lydia Somerville; calculated for the Instruction and Entertainment of Juvenile Minds
I'd like to bet that Little Lydia Somerville was very, very good, and sweet, and pious, and obedient, and all the other things that virtuous young girls were supposed to be.  Bearing no relation to any little girl I ever met (or wanted to meet)!

The Little Collier of the Black Forest,  or The Magical Mirror, a Moral Tale; to which is added The Untoward Orphan
I cannot imagine what an untoward orphan might be.  But it's bound to be uplifting, and very moral, I'm sure.  The little collier is probably the male equivalent of Little Lydia -- sickly sweet and dutiful.  Or perhaps I'm too cynical here?  What do you think?

Winter Evening Entertainments; containing a variety of pleasing Tricks and humorous Deceptions; for the amusement and instruction of youth
I thought that one might be a welcome gift until I saw the dreaded word "instruction".  Ah well.

No doubt, any child receiving any of these would be politely grateful to the giver.  But those receiving a Christmas Box -- money! -- would have no trouble at all in expressing their thanks.

I hope that all our blog visitors and contributors have a wonderful Christmas, and that the presents you give and receive are all exactly what the recipient most desires.  Happy Christmas and, as they say where I come from, a Guid New Year.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tom Jones is coming out in January!

In early January, I’m undertaking a new venture. I’m going to have a Clandestine Classic out! I’m adding bits to “Tom Jones.”
The series got a lot of interest and continues that way, because it’s taken a new approach. There is no rewriting. The author’s work remained exactly as he wrote it, apart from some updating of punctuation (“Tom Jones” is very confusing in the original, because Fielding didn’t use speech marks, or separate who was speaking on a separate line!). instead, the co-author has to add the naughty bits!
It’s been a really amazing exercise. The editors expected the new author to blend her work in as seamlessly as possible with the original, which means using the original author’s style.
So why “Tom Jones”? For me, it’s the natural choice. I’ve studied the Fieldings and that era of history for most of my life, and I’ve been in love with it since I was nine years old. The Fielding brothers are vital and colourful characters who revolutionised the way we now think about justice and criminal procedures. My “Richard and Rose” series started with my desire to write something about crime and punishment at that time. Both Fieldings became magistrates of Bow Street, first Henry the novelist and failed entrepreneur, then his brother John, the “Blind Beak.” Henry Fielding started the Bow Street Runners, commissioning twelve (or twelve pair – the wording is unclear) in 1749, to pursue crimes that crossed county boundaries, principally smuggling, poaching and counterfeiting.
And during all that, he found time to write some of the greatest novels ever written. “Tom Jones” bursts with life. The characters live and breathe before you, and in Tom Fielding creates a hero we can root for. Not to mention the love of his young life, Sophia, who is no shrinking miss, but takes life in both hands and rides it hard.
Re-reading this novel made me recall how absolutely I fell for this when I first read it. Coming after the morally suspect “Pamela,” it was a breath of fresh air, although when I first read “Pamela” in my early teens, I fell in love with the story of the maid who seduces her rakish master by her goodness and moral uprightness.
Fielding wrote a robust response to “Pamela” – two, in fact, in the parody “Shamela” and then the wonderful “Joseph Andrews,” the story of Pamela’s brother. So fanfiction has been gong a lot longer than most people think! Or anti-fan fiction, maybe?
Then he wrote “Tom Jones.” Most people remember the Tony Richardson film and the scene of Tom and the landlady seducing each other over the dining table. There are numerous instances in the book that seem like Fielding’s skipped or maybe even cut out a sex scene. It just works, and written in the right spirit, I hope it adds something to the text.
It might well be that originally Fielding intended to add more explicit scenes. The mid-eighteenth century didn’t have that meanness of spirit and hypocrisy that the later Victorians specialised in. The Church advocated high moral behaviour, but most people had an earthy realism that allowed for honest, uncomplicated sexual enjoyment. But in the same year that “Tom Jones” was released, so was one of the most scandalous books in the English language – “Fanny Hill.” (please note I’m using the shorter titles of the books – I’m aware that the original titles are much longer!). there was a huge scandal when this book came out, and later in the year, Cleland released a heavily censored version. Could it be that Fielding held back when he came to write his bawdier passages?
It’s an intriguing thought.
Anyway, “Tom Jones” will be out in January at Clandestine Classics. Do take a look!
Read about the book here


Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Duke's Dilemma

I'm delighted to tell you that my sixth Regency, The Duke's Dilemma, is published today. It is available  on & Amazon.UK.
This was released six years ago as 'The Ghosts of Neddingfield Hall' by Robert Hale. This is the only book of mine that sold out before it's official release date. I hope this e-book will do as well.
Out now - £0.99

Here is the blurb:

Hester Frobisher arrives at Neddingfield Hall to find them locked. Why would Aunt Agatha invite her to stay and then bar the gates? She is determined to solve this mystery on her own but her cousin, the Duke of Waverley, Ralph Sinclair, has other ideas and she is obliged to accept his help.
Hester is drawn to this attractive veteran of the Peninsular Wars and Ralph finds it increasingly difficult to behave like a gentleman when she’s within arms’ reach.
However, sinister forces are working to lure the two, and those who work for them, to their deaths. No one at Neddingfield is safe. Is it ghosts, or something far more dangerous that seeks to destroy them?
                   Will Hester’s quick wits and Ralph’s courage be   
                   enough to save them all?

I hope you all have a restful and enjoyable Christmas and peaceful and prosperous New Year.
best wishes
Fenella J Miller.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Visit to Mompesson House

I recently visited Mompesson House in Salisbury, which struck me as the quintessential Queen Anne town house. Although the house itself was built in 1701 the interiors were added later  - elegant plasterwork ceilings and a new staircase – and the house looks exactly the sort of place a genteel Austenesque family might live. It is small enough to be cosy but also supremely elegant. I particularly loved the drawing room, which was on a grand scale for a relatively small house and had beautiful views onto the walled garden at the back of the house. I could just imagine myself sitting on a window seat looking out over the Cathedral Close and being inspired by all the characters I saw passing by!

 I wasn’t surprised to find that Mompesson had been used as Mrs Jennings’ house in the film of Sense and Sensibility. In another intriguing Austen connection, one of the families who lived at Mompesson House in the Georgian period was called Hayter. I could not help but wonder if they had been known to Jane Austen and she had borrowed the name for Charles Hayter in Persuasion! The Hayters lived at Mompesson for a couple of generations then in 1800 a family of three sisters belonging to the Portman family moved in. I was curious to know more of the Portman sisters but could find little other than that they belonged to the wealthy family who were descended from Sir William Portman, Lord Chief Justice to Henry VIII. In the Georgian and Regency era they own vast tracts of London. Who were the three unmarried sisters and what were they doing in Salisbury?

I don’t have a record of life in Salisbury in the Regency period but I do have one relating to Chichester, another cathedral town where society would have been similar to that in Salisbury. In the early 19th century there were five annual fairs in the city and a market every week. The coaches to London ran three days a week. Polite society was considered very genteel and there were regular subscription concerts and theatre performances. One can imagine the Portman ladies of Mompesson House enjoying such entertainments as well as shopping in the medieval city streets, attending services at the cathedral and hosting elegant dinners in their beautiful town house. There is definitely a story in there… 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Jane Austen in Paradise

Every few months, with two or three cousins, I do a poetry reading in an old people’s home where a dear aunt spent her last few years. We read the sort of poetry we think the residents will know and, we hope, enjoy: Wordsworth’s The Daffodils and W. B. Yeats’ The Isle of Innisfree, for example. We also take requests.

This time someone asked for Jane’s Marriage by Rudyard Kipling, who was an admirer of Jane Austen’s work. Kipling imagines Jane going up the stairs of Heaven on the arm of Sir Walter Scott (also a fan). At the top, she is welcomed by 18th century novelists Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, the Spanish writer Miguel Cervantes, and Shakespeare.

I’m sure that many of you know the poem but, in case not, here it is:

Jane went to Paradise:
That was only fair.
Good Sir Walter followed her,
And armed her up the stair.
Henry and Tobias,
And Miguel of Spain,
Stood with Shakespeare at the top
To welcome Jane.

Then the Three Archangels
Offered out of hand,
Anything in Heaven’s gift
That she might command.
Azrael’s eyes upon her,
Raphael’s wings above,
Michael’s sword against her heart,
Jane said, ‘Love.’

Instantly the under-
Standing Seraphim
Laid their fingers to their lips
And went to look for him.
Stole across the Zodiac,
Harnessed Charles’s Wain,
And whispered round the Nebulæ
‘Who loved Jane?’

In a private limbo
Where none had thought to look,
Sat a Hampshire gentleman
Reading of a book.
It was called Persuasion
And it told the plain
Story of the love between
Him and Jane.

He heard the question
Circle Heaven through –
Closed the book and answered:
‘I did – and do!’
Quietly but speedily
(as Captain Wentworth moved)
Entered into Paradise
The man Jane loved!

Jane lies in Winchester, blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made.
And, while the stones of Winchester – or Milsom Street – remain,
Glory, Love, and Honour unto England’s Jane!

Picture: from the Ladies' Pocket Magazine, 1831

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's that time again.................

Well, Christmas is on its way now and like many other wives and mothers I am getting into the festive mood and preparing to welcome visitors here over the holiday. 

I have also been looking at how Christmas was celebrated in the eighteenth century – not amongst the rich or the aristocracy but the "middling sort", people more like my own family. This would  include people such as Anne Hughes, a farmer's wife who kept a diary at the end of the 18th century. 

In her diary entry for 23rd December 1796 she says she and her maid were busy preparing food for Christmas, including "boiled hams, great big mince pies, roast gees and hens and boiled and roasted beef" while her mothe- in-law made "a pudden for carter and shepherd". She also describes a meat cake that that was very well received – it seems to have been a cake tin lined with pastry, a layer of "chopped beef, onions and herbs", then a layer of pastry and more layers of meat mixture and pastry until the tin was filled. This was "cooked until done" (not very helpful).  It was served cold in slices, like a cake, and her neighbours were most impressed!  On Christmas day she also served "2 hares, spice pudding, apple pies, junkets, cider cake, cinnamon cake and a rich Christmas cake." Her husband was at one end of the table, carving the beef and geese and Farmer Ellis at the other, cutting the hams etc.  

In the evening two fiddlers played while they danced a merry jig, "Mistress Prue" played a merry tune upon the spinet and after that they told stories, played "Popp" and snap dragon, bobbed for apples, ate cakes and wine then "danced till supper".

It sounds like a really lovely Christmas day – compare this to the diary entry some forty years earlier from  Thomas Turner, a Sussex Shopkeeper. Thomas tells us that on Christmas day he and his servants attended church, then they had a few visitors to dine on "a buttock of beef and plumb suet pudding". So far, so good, but Thomas tells us that in the evening he read "two nights of the Compaint" – a book of religious night thoughts – " of which was "The Christian's Triumph against the Fear of Death".

Two very different views of Christmas, one much more reflective than the other, but both quite recognisable today.  How will you be spending your day? Do tell!

Sarah Mallory
Beneath the Major's Scars - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin & Boon
The Illegitimate Montague - pub Dec 2012 Harlequin Mills & Boon