Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hard Times

Sometimes it’s tempting to have a little moan about how much we have to do, isn’t it?  Whether it’s writing, editing, housework or the day job – we all feel tired from time to time and need to let off steam.  But do we really have the right to complain?  Just think how much less we have to do than our ancestors!

I am in awe of two of my great-grandmothers – Elmina and Martha, and I think they are great examples of just how ordinary women lived even a hundred years ago and how hard they had to work every day.

Me as a baby with Gt-grandma Elmina
Elmina (usually called Mina) was my great-grandmother on my mother’s side and lived in Sweden.  She was the wife of a baker and he got up at some unearthly hour of the morning to make bread that had to be ready to sell by the time their shop opened each day.  It was Mina’s job to man the shop, but before it opened, she also had to deliver bread to customers who had ordered theirs to be brought to their house.  On top of that, Mina had six children (my grandmother was the oldest and had to help in the shop from a very early age).  She had to cook for the whole family, plus at least three apprentice bakers, every day.  Somehow she also found the time to make clothes for the entire family, not to mention doing the washing and cleaning.  I have no idea how she did it.

Martha was the mother of fourteen children – fourteen! - twelve of whom survived to adulthood.  She was my great-grandmother on my father’s side and lived in Holborn, near Red Lion Square.  Before she’d even turned forty, her husband died and she was left to bring up the children on her own.  Even though a few of them were old enough to help out by then by going out to work and bringing home their salaries, it must have been a struggle.  Again, I have no idea how she managed to feed and clothe so many!  But somehow she did.  Sadly she was killed by a bomb during the war – she and her eldest daughter had gone to shelter in the crypt of their local church, which took a direct hit.  It’s ironic that had she stayed in her house, she would have been safe.

I know that when we read and write historicals, we mostly prefer to focus on the upper class people, the ones who never had to toil in this way.  But when I do genealogy, it’s the ordinary people who fascinate me the most – the ones who never really made a mark on the world, but without whom we wouldn’t be here.  I have hundreds of them on my family tree (I’ve been researching my family for quite a long time) and they each have their own story to tell.  One day, I’m going to put them all in a book.

How about you – do you have any interesting ancestors or someone you particularly admire?

Christina Courtenay

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

News from a Country Town in 1815

I have just acquired a copy of the Norwich Mercury and Yarmouth, Lynn and Ipswich Herald for Saturday December 9th 1815. I love old newspapers and I particularly enjoy regional ones where the preoccupations of the readers are not always those of London folk.

These two advertisments caught my eye first. The top one is for a new stagecoach "The Day"  running out of the Rampant Horse inn in Norwich. Rampant Horse Street is still there, although the inn is long gone, and you often hear visitors commenting on the strange name. The proprietors promise the journey can be done in fourteen hours - and assure us there are only four "insides" or inside passengers  for added comfort. The owners include Richard Gurney - doubtless a relative of the Gurney banking family and Ann Nelson & Son - a good Norfolk name and an interesting example of the involvement of women in the stagecoach business.
Below it is a charming ilustration of a "Thieves' Alarm" - advertised as being more humane than man traps and spring guns. The inventor has patented something that looks like a cross between a trip wire and a shop door bell - yours for a mere 30 shillings.
There are two adverts for schools in the paper. Here is the one for young ladies -
Miss Ditchell does not give any information about the numbers of young ladies at her establishment, although the range of ages suggests a reasonable size, nor does she tell us what is taught. For 30 guineas (£31 and ten shillings) I would expect a varied curriculum!
1815 was Waterloo year and there are two items of relevance, plus part of a series on the Life of Wellington. The mayor and town council had obviously got up a collection to buy presentation swords for leading figures in the final campaign against Napoleon and - no doubt quivering with pride - His Worship was able to report back to the council that the Duke of Wellington had written to him -
The court pages, as well as reporting on the health of King George III - still suffering from "madness" - has a brief message from St Helena where Napoleon had just been exiled.
The remark that members of Napoleon's entourage were "heartily sick" of their new abode is not surprising: St Helena was considerd to be a thoroughly unpleasant place.
And finally, given recent concern about the quality of food in hospitals, I was interested in the advert inviting tenders to supply the General Hospital at Yarmouth. Virtually everything required, from meat to bread to port wine, must be of the "best". Salt and water must be used for the bread - not sea water; soap must be well-dried before delivery; beer should be of the quality "sold by the brewers to private families at six-pence per gallon"; sago, well sifted and free from dust and the tea must be "good Souchong". It is fascinating to read between the lines and to see to what extent food was adulterated  - milk, for example, must be "neat as it comes from the cow"!
 How much of these admirable provisions actually reached the patients is another matter, of course.
I am now going to settle down with a magnifying glass to read every detail of the scandalous crim.con. ("criminal conversation") case between Sir William Abdy and Lord William Cavendish Bentinck who was accused of seducing Sir William's wife, the natural daughter of Wellington's elder brother the Marquiss of Wellesley.
As this is a family blog I will spare you the details, other than to report that Lord William, after stalking Lady Abdy from London to Paris to Worthing, "rendered the unfortunate object of his illicit passion the most unhappy of women."
Louise Allen




Sunday, February 17, 2013


I finished printing out Winds of Change yesterday afternoon, checked the manuscript yet again, then packed it up. I've just posted it. 129,000 words on 504 pages is a hefty weight and cost £10.30 to send first class. But that was only a little more than parcel rates and will arrive three days sooner.
So, what now?  Clean out my office - I've forgotten what colour the carpet is. Tidying my desk and putting away all my research files will help me move on from this story so I can begin work on the next.  Ideas have been bubbling for a while but I needed to get Winds of Change on its way first. Not putting anything on paper allowed me freedom to consider all kinds of possibilities without commitment.
       But now all that changes. I have to decide the year, background, locations and characters for the new book. It's an exciting feeling, exhilarating and slightly scary. For me one of the joys of being a novelist is learning from each book I write and carrying that forward to make the next one even better.
       Where will I start?  Reading about the period and locations I've chosen will suggest events, plot-points, and – most importantly - characters whose conflicts and choices will drive the story and explore my chosen theme.  Often during this preliminary reading a title will suggest itself.  Fingers crossed.
       But first things first: vacuum cleaner, duster, screen wipes ...

Jane Jackson.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Time Stands Still

This is not strictly Regency or Georgian. But it could have been. On a trip to Morocco recently, we had an encounter that could have taken place at any time in the last few centuries.

Atlas Mountains, Morocco

 We went on a trip into the Berber region of the Atlas mountains which rise to 12000 feet or so.  

Berber village clings to mountainside

We visited a Berber village and went inside a Berber house for tea. The house is made of clay and is small and very dark inside. Animals are kept down below, mostly sheep and goats. Our guide, himself a Berber, translated because the villagers did not speak anything but Berber. Our middle-aged guide, like most educated people of his age, was bilingual in Arabic and French, in addition to Berber. 

Venerable Berber tea maker

In the Berber family, age is clearly rank. The house was headed by the grandfather, a venerable old man, who did the tea making ad you can see here.

Embroidered Berber apron

His wife, also venerable, did nothing as far as I could see. She wore a clean embroidered apron which seemed to be a status symbol.

Berber wood fire, baking flat bread

The bread making and kettle boiling was done by the daughter-in-law on a makeshift wood fire in a small smoky area down in the bowels of the house. She didn't seem to have an apron at all and it's amazing that she could see, given the amount of smoke there was. (I have lightened the photo so that the interior can be seen. It was actually very smoky and much darker than it appears to be.)

The visitors sat on the roof terrace for tea. The old man yelled for his granddaughter who brought up the kettle of boiling water and also hot water to pour over his hands. The tea-making made me think of Japan – it's a very elaborate ritual and no stage of the process can be omitted.

Berber tea-making kit

First, the old man's hands are washed by the oldest granddaughter. Then he warms a pewter teapot and takes some green tea from a silver box and adds it to the pot. He pours a smallish amount of boiling water on the tea leaves. Then there's brewing time. Next he pours out one tea glass full of green tea which is left aside. Then he pours out a tumbler of green tea, which is much darker and apparently too tannic. The tumbler of tea is discarded. The small glass of tea is poured back into the teapot.

Stay with me here. There's lots more.

Sugar cone

Next the old man takes a large bunch of twiggy mint, crushes it in his hands and stuffs it into the teapot on top of the green tea. Then he opens a larger silver box containing big lumps of sugar which have been hacked off an old fashioned sugar cone about 18 inches high.  (You can see a complete one here, with its paper wrapping, plus the two silver boxes.)  He selects a lump of fitting size, about 2 inches cube, drops it into the teapot on top of the mint and pours boiling water over the top.

More brewing time. Then he pours out a large glass of tea and pours it back into tea pot. He repeats the pouring and returning one more time.

Then finally (though I may have missed a step or two!) he pours out a small tea glass of tea and tastes it. If it's up to scratch, he then pours out tea glasses for all the guests. The pouring itself is like pouring sherry in Spain, done from great height into a small space without missing a drop.

Once he's poured tea glasses for all the guests, he yells for his granddaughter again. This time, she arrives carrying freshly cooked local flat bread, made from wheat and barley flour and cooked on a plate above the open wood fire by the daughter-in-law downstairs. If you look closely, you can see the bread on top of the fire in the picture of the smoky kitchen.

Guests enjoying mint tea and Berber flatbread
Both tea and bread were extremely good. The old man's mint tea was by far the best we had in Morocco.

I could have imagined a Regency traveller being offered tea with exactly the same elaborate ceremony. Everything would have been the same, probably. Except for the pink plastic colander in which the bunch of mint had been washed! Those who remember the film The Wind and the Lion with Sean Connery and Candace Bergen will have an idea of what the Berbers were like a century ago.  I imagine they were the same centuries before that.

One other interesting thing I noted. Our guide, who was in his 40s or older, greeted the grandmother by kissing her hand, or at least by bending his face down to touch his forehead to her hand. It was difficult to see in the dark, but I was impressed by the gesture. Nowadays, respect for old ladies is definitely something I approve of!!

And yes, I may one day put all this into a book.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Recently, I cleaned house, that is, I asked for the rights back to a couple of books that have been languishing in publishers’ backlists for a while. I wanted to give them a primp and a fluff and send them back out, renewed.
It’s been very satisfying, especially re-reading them and thinking, “they’re not half bad.” And they’re historicals, both of them Regencies. While I adore the 1750’s, the Regency, a bit more than half a century later, also has its appeal.

For instance, “Vanessa” is set mainly at the Congress of Vienna. I’ve never understood why more Regency novels aren’t set there. It was an amazingly glamorous event—ostensibly to sort out the mess Napoleon had left Europe in, but also a gathering of the movers and shakers of Regency society. The handsome, dissolute Prince Metternich was there, as was the new and young Czar of Russia. The Prince Regent never made an appearance, but all his principal politicians did.

And then there’s Vienna. A gorgeous city now as it was then, but sadly, without the sachertorte that just puts the cherry on the cake. It was glittering, a time for Europe to start to mend bridges and play again, celebrate the defeat of Napoleon and the end of war. A melting pot of ambition, fashion and power.

Into this comes Vanessa, the new wife of Baron Vesey, a diplomat attached to the British contingent. Like many diplomats of his time, Chris also engages in mild espionage, a passing on of information between important centres of interest, and since Chris is particularly good at remembering and repeating numbers, he does this a little more than most. But he is a career diplomat, and that’s where he’s concentrating his efforts. Vanessa is well-born, but poor, with a mother desperate to settle her five daughters. Vesey is a catch, but he wants Vanessa, who is accomplished, beautiful and bright enough to be an asset to him in his demanding career.

Unfortunately, Vanessa has given her heart to Emery, who is equally poverty-stricken and trying to make enough money so he can ask Vanessa to marry him. She’s waited for him for years, but she knows she can’t wait much longer. Besides, although she doesn’t love Chris, she likes and respects him.

Of course, this being a romance, Things happen to make Vanessa change her mind.
I got the inspiration for this book from an exercise on a now defunct writers’ list. Every week the loop gave a list of words, usually five, to craft something. A story, a poem, anything, really. By the time I’d built “pilgarlic” into the story, I was lost. Vanessa sprang to life on the page and her story just had to be told.

So here she is, in all her revamped glory. I’m happy to share her with you.

Lynne Connolly

Saturday, February 09, 2013

New books for old?

Lady Eleanor's Secret was first published an an e-book by Aurora Regency last year and has now arrived in print as a LP with Thorpe. This means my book can now reach a new audience - readers who don't have a Kindle/Nook/ or ipad. As always Thorpe have given it a lovely cover.  This was the last book I wrote for Robert Hale many years ago -Mr Hale wanted it -but as my last book failed to sell out he changed his mind.
Released on Feb 1st as LP.
Coming out as an e-book entitled  'A House Party' later this month.

The House Party was published by Hale and Thorpe (This is the Hale cover) and will be published by me as an e-book - with a great cover by Jane Dixon-Smith - very soon.
I'm editing the book now - it's amazing how much I've learned as a writer since this book was published. Writing for Musa/Aurora was hard work but they taught me a lot about tightening my story and cutting out  unnecessary words. For some reason the editor at Hale at the time changed many sentences so that they began with a dangling gerund - so have had to remove all those. (I didn't even know what this was until writing for Musa.)
I had forgotten how exiting the book is - would you believe I was actually reading my own story with real enjoyment? I was thinking - did I write this? However did I think of that plot twist?
Another thing that will be new for old is my website - Jane Dixon-Smith has taken it over and it looks great.
Why not have a look tomorrow and see what you think?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Attractions of the Country Town

Last weekend I was in Derbyshire, staying in a converted watermill near the town of Ashbourne. There had been a mill on the site since the Domesday book and the current building still preserves many ancient features from the 17th to the 19th centuries including a lot of the mill machinery cleverly built into the current, very elegant, accommodation.

The Peak District, as well as being a stunningly beautiful place, has lots of literary and historical associations. Some scenes in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the 14th century poem, were set there. Sir Walter Scott set his 1823 novel Peveril of the Peak in Derbyshire and of course key scenes in Pride and Prejudice take place in the Peak District too. I had always thought that Charlotte Bronte drew her inspiration for Jane Eyre from Yorkshire but apparently that too was inspired by Derbyshire and one of my all time favourite time slip novels, A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley was set in the county. With so much literary inspiration around me I suppose it’s no wonder I felt a strong urge to set a book there myself!

I wandered around Ashbourne on the Saturday. The Peak District has been a tourist destination for centuries; the Dukes of Devonshire developed the town of Buxton as a spa resort in the 18th century and Ashbourne became a wealthy and fashionable social centre at the same time, attracting visitors who came to admire the scenery of Dovedale. Six of the coaching roads met there including the route from London to Carlisle. There are still a number of coaching inns and elegant 18th and 19th century town houses built by tradesmen, clergymen, doctors, lawyers and the country gentry. Naturally Ashbourne had assembly rooms and a social season offering the usual round of dances, card parties and theatricals. The Mansion is the most imposing Georgian house in the town and it’s garden contains a little summerhouse where Samuel Johnson, a friend of the owner, did some of his writing.

Ashbourne was also a parole town, housing 172 French prisoners of war during the period 1803 – 1814. They were billeted all over the town – I’m guessing that accommodation in the coaching inns and pubs was the most popular – and joined in with the social life of the town, and four of them married the four daughters of the landlord of the Cock Inn!

I enjoy Georgian and Regency books that are set in country towns and could quite see myself setting a book in Ashbourne. How do you feel about country town settings? Is there a particular book you enjoyed that was set outside of London?

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Hating Emma Woodhouse

I thought this little anecdote might help to chase away those winter blues. It comes from Quentin Bell’s Elders and Betters, a book of Bloomsbury reminiscences.

Quentin, son of the artist Vanessa Bell and nephew of the writer Virginia Woolf, and his brother-in-law, the writer David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, are talking about Jane Austen’s Emma.

Bunny had no time for Emma. ‘She was a very unpleasant character, a desperate snob, callous, conceited and vain,’ he said. In his view, she had no redeeming features whatsoever.

Quentin Bell expostulated. ‘Although she had her faults, she did suffer from an unbearably silly father and she bore his silliness with angelic patience.’

‘Well, we only have Jane Austen’s word for that,’ responded Bunny, darkly.

It made me laugh out loud. But it does illustrate Jane Austen’s ability to create characters so real that they seem to have an existence entirely independent of their creator.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The RoNA Rose Shortlist 2013....

…so, there I was, typing away at the latest work-in-progress and I flick over to my emails to find one from the Romantic Novelists' Association, telling me that Beneath the Major's Scars has been short-listed for the 2013 Rona Rose Award!

Yippee!!! After winning the Rona Rose last year I am so thrilled to think that it wasn't a lucky fluke, that the readers really do like my books.

Even more thrilling - Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley will announce the winner on 26 February during a glittering reception in London – you can find more details about the event and all the Romantic Novelists' Association's awards here   but here's the full short-list for the RoNA Rose Award:-

Fiona Harper, Always the Best Man, Harlequin Mills & Boon Riva
Sarah Mallory, Beneath the Major's Scars, Harlequin Historical
Heidi Rice, The Good, the Bad and the Wild, Harlequin Mills & Boon Riva
Carol Townend, Betrothed to the Barbarian, Harlequin Historical
Scarlet Wilson, West Wing to Maternity Wing, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical
Scarlet Wilson, Her Christmas Eve Diamond, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical

I am familiar with all these authors (proud to say I am friends with some of them!) and love their books, so it is such an honour to be up there with them, and for a book that is one of my all time favourites.

The idea for Beneath the Major's Scars began I was on holiday on Exmoor one September and I started to day-dream about a scarred and damaged war hero who might choose to live in an isolated house surrounded by these beautiful and dramatic moors.  It wasn't a great leap then to think of the young woman who was going to rescue my hero, Dominic, from his self-imposed exile and show him that life was still worth living. I decided my heroine would come from even further south, from Cornwall in fact and she would have scars of her own that would need to heal.

I also wanted to introduce a brother for Dominic – an identical twin who would show Zelah just how devastatingly handsome Dominic had been before a French sabre cut through his face.  Of course, Zelah knows beauty is only skin-deep and she is attracted to the man she sees behind the scars.  

Dominic is a brooding, dark hero, perfectly at home in the rugged landscape of Exmoor. His brother, Jasper, became the hero of my next book, Behind the Rake's Wicked Wager, and I wanted him to be everything Dominic was not, so Jasper is suave and sophisticated, a fun-loving young lord who is more used to fighting off women than chasing them – until he meets his match in Susannah Prentess!

These two books are very different in nature, but that was the point, to show that identical twins can be very different people.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Thanks for dropping by – I am off now to decide just what I am going to wear for the glitzy reception in London 26th February………….

Sarah Mallory