Sunday, September 22, 2013

The English in Japan

Nagasaki now
This year is the 400th anniversary of the first establishment of trade relations with Japan (or the ‘Japonish nation’ as the English called it then).  The English ship the Clove left our shores in January 1611 and arrived in Japan over two years later, in June 1613 – a very long journey even by their standards.

The expedition was led by a man called John Saris who brought with him letters and presents from King James I to the Japanese ruler.  The king’s letter was addressed to “The Emperor of Japan” and calls him a “mightie prince”, but what he didn’t know was that the man who would eventually read it wasn’t the emperor at all, but the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu.  The emperor at the time was a mere puppet and the Shogun had all the power.  I’m assuming he received the presents as well!

The English were very lucky in that there was already a compatriot of theirs living in Japan – Will Adams.  He was originally from Gillingham in Kent and had been apprenticed to a shipbuilder at the age of 12.  He later served on Queen Elizabeth I’s ships as master and pilot, and spent about twelve years working for the so called Barbary Merchants, but then he wanted to experience new things and signed on with the Dutch.  He arrived in Japan as a pilot on board the ship Liefde in the year 1600 and against all the odds, managed to establish himself there.  He was trusted by the Shogun, was given a small estate, married a Japanese woman (even though he was already married in England) and had children.  He stayed in Japan until his death in 1620.

Drawing © Josceline Fenton

When John Saris arrived in 1613 he therefore had the perfect opportunity to establish his so called ‘factory’ (trading post) and prosper with the help of a man with lots of local knowledge and experience.  Adams helped him translate King James’s letter and arranged an audience with the Shogun, who granted permission to trade and gave the Englishman gifts in return.  He even allowed the English East India Company’s ships the freedom to enter any port and to settle wherever they wanted.  But Saris didn’t listen to Adams' advice and from then on his venture was doomed.  He tried to establish a factory at Hirado, an island outside Nagasaki, but it didn’t work out and had to be abandoned in 1623.  From 1630-1853 Japan was closed to all nations except the Dutch.

Last week I visited the British Library in London where they had a mini exhibition about the English in Japan.  I was thrilled to see the actual letter from King James I, as well as a letter written by Will Adams himself to some English traders in Bantam, Java, in 1611.  Adams was obviously an educated man as he wrote fluently (although his handwriting was so messy I couldn’t make it out).  There were also two contemporary maps of Hirado/Nagasaki and the sea route to the capital Edo, one of them beautifully illustrated in the Japanese style.  It was especially interesting for me to see these as I visited Nagasaki when doing research for my novel The Gilded Fan and I couldn’t help but wonder what the English sailors made of it.  I found it fascinating and exotic in the 21st century, but how much more so must it have been for the men in 1613?  It’s an amazing place!



Thursday, September 19, 2013

At Home in London With Jane Austen

The main tourist season is over, the schools are back and London is rather less hectic - so I thought it might be a good time to suggest a walk through Jane Austen's London.
When I researched Walking Jane Austen's London I planned eight routes, each including places that Jane knew, places that appear in her books and a sprinkling of other interesting places from her times.
It is little known that her banker brother Henry had five homes in London and that four of those survive, although he would have trouble recognising two of them!
A shopping expedition to Knightsbridge and a brisk walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Palace Gardens can be combined with a visit to the two most transformed homes, both of them refaced and with extra floors added in the late Victorian period.

 (The Illustration shows a lady in "Parade Dress in Hyde Park 1808)
Close to the corner of Hans Street and Sloane Street is 64, Sloane Street, which was home to Henry and his wife Eliza between 1809 and Eliza's death in May 1813. It has been refaced and an extra attic floor added, but inside it is the same house that Jane stayed in while she was correcting the proofs of Sense and Sensibility in 1811. She and Eliza "walked into London" to shop from here, a reminder that this was a separate village at the time and that London did not begin until the Hyde Park Corner turnpike gates.
It was a convenient base for walks in Kensington Palace gardens, a very fashionable location and one she wrote about visiting in letters home. In Sense and Sensibility Mrs Jennings and Elinor met Miss Steele there, "...but Marianne, who knew that the Willoughbys were again in town and had a continual dread of meeting them, chose rather to stay at home, than venture into so public a place."
Henry and Eliza lived rather a fashionable life, throwing parties that were mentioned in the Morning Post and maintaining a carriage. Jane wrote of one outing, "The driving about, the Carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was...I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche."

Henry left the Sloane Street house when Eliza died and went to live over a branch of his bank in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden for a while, but he returned to Hans Place, just around the corner. Jane stayed there for the first time in 1814 and liked it very much. It is the most changed of all Henry's surviving London homes and the Blue Plaque refers to a "house on this site" as being his.  However the inside is the original, refaced, with an added floor, the front door moved and the garden, which Jane described as "quite a love" lost to the street behind.
It was at this house that Jane was staying when she transferred her business to publisher John Murray. Her room was on what is now the side, over the Blue Plaque and the sitting room where she wrote letters and corrected proofs, is at the back.
(Kensington Gardens walking dresses for 1808)

 Henry's banking business became bankrupt and he left London in 1816 for a new career as a country parson, ending Jane's visits to London.
Henry's  London house 1801-4 remains, now a small hotel, at 24, Upper Berkeley Street and the Covent Garden house (with a Rohan shop where the bank used to be) is also easy to find.

Walking Jane Austen's London is available as a paperback  and on Kindle. It has eight walks with detailed maps and over seventy colour illustrations.
Discover more about Jane Austen's London at

Louise Allen

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Jewellery - from raw gold to finished item

Earlier this week as research for my current book I visited the Smith & Pepper factory which is part of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham.  Our tour guide was marvellous. A jeweller himself he was knowledgeable, informative, had a wonderful sense of humour, and brought the story of the factory to vivid life.  It opened in 1899, a small family business founded by Charles Smith and his uncle, Edwin Pepper.  Both had previously worked at Smith & Ewen, owned by Charles Smith’s father.  (When I heard that my writing antenna immediately started twitching. Why had nephew and uncle left to set up a separate company? Had there been a family quarrel? If so, what about?  Potential for a family saga?) 

In the 1920s Charles’s son Eric took over sales and promotion of the company’s jewellery. His sister Olive ran the office, and their brother Tom joined them in the early 1930s to run the workshop. The three siblings never married.  When Tom and Eric decided to retire no one in the family wanted to take on the business, perhaps because it had not moved with the times.   Miss Olive still used her ancient black sit-up-and-beg typewriter and a massive green comptometer – forerunner of the adding machine.   Nor, due to the economic climate at the time, could a buyer be found.  So in 1981 the owners sold the building and contents to Birmingham City Council, locked the door and walked away.    Miss Olive was 74 at the time and not ready for retirement even if her two brothers were. So she went across the road and worked for another jeweller until she was 85.

In 1990, after doing nothing for nine years, Birmingham City Council sprang into action, employed an architect, photographer and an archivist and began work on turning the building into a museum.  Every one of the 70,000 items was photographed and catalogued, including a milk bill from 1899.  After the necessary Health & Safety work had been completed each item was returned to the exact spot it had been found, with the exception of two cups and their nine-year-old residue of half-drunk tea.   The museum opened in February 1992.    

Those scales in the top picture?  They reach to my shoulder.  The wooden implement in the photo on the right that looks as if it might have featured in the Spanish Inquisition is used to stretch gold bars into fine wire of different profiles.
Among many fascinating items I saw was an alloy recipe book. Pure gold is 24 carat, but is too soft to work with, nor can it be polished to a shine. This is the reason other metals are added. To make 9 carat gold you need 375 grams of gold, 100 grams of silver, 450 grams of copper and 75 grams of zinc.  After these are heated together in a crucible, the mixture is poured into a mould and the result is a one kilogram gold bar.

The company made gold and silver bangles, brooches, cufflinks and pendants.  Many of the designs made in 1899 continued in popularity and were still being produced right up until 1981 when the factory closed.  Their speciality was bamboo bangles and the snake jewellery which had become very popular in the early 1920s following the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

From gold bar to a finished item of jewellery is a journey of many stages. Smith & Pepper were unusual as they completed all their jewellery under one roof.   To achieve this they employed up to 35 people at a time, each one training for many years to specialise in a particular process.  A young apprentice of 16 would spend at least a year learning how to use a piercing saw that would cut thin flat sheets of gold, copper, brass etc.   Now jewellery frequently passes from one firm to another during various stages of manufacture.

To guarantee their purity, items made from gold, silver and platinum are tested at an assay office and marked with a hallmark.  The only exception is earrings which may be too small to allow for a mark.
In 1762, to cash in on the booming silver trade, Matthew Boulton opened a factory producing silver items such as buttons, buckles and spoons.  But with no assay office in Birmingham,  and despite the risk of damage and theft, he had no choice but to send his silver to Chester to be hallmarked.  In 1773 after two years of hard campaigning he and the other silversmiths finally achieved establishment of the Birmingham assay office.  This brought increased trade and greater prosperity to the town.
Walking through the factory and seeing the workshops and the tools – simple and basic but used with great expertise as demonstrated by our guide – helped me imagine  what it must have been like to work there over 100 years ago.   I was grateful one thing was missing – the noise.  The thud of stamps and the roar of the steam turbine powering belts that operated the polishing machines must have been deafening.

Jane Jackson.

Friday, September 13, 2013


There are rumbles in the blogosphere. Again. This time it’s about transparency – should you say upfront who you are when you review, or is it better to use a pseudonym?
That got me thinking. It’s always been that way, it’s just that these days geographic boundaries are less important and it’s using a different medium to the ones our ancestors would have known.
The dry announcements in the Court Circulars and the brief accounts of doings in Parliament and society held a lot of spice. It was spice that Lady Caroline Lamb exploited in her book “Glenarvon” which led to her downfall. In it, she wrote scurrilous things about society, her thinly disguised characters caricatures of actual people.
It wasn’t so much that she’d written a satire. Oh no, it was more than that. It was in a book that anyone could read if they could buy or borrow it. Anyone. That meant people outside the sacred circle of high society. While the exploits of Lady Caroline herself had led to widespread comment and even ridicule, especially her relentless pursuit of Lord Byron, in “Glenarvon” she talked about people she knew. And, being born to a rich and privileged family and then marrying into one, she knew all the gossip.
In short, there’s always been scandal. There are huge, big scandals which blow up and then subside, leaving memories. They make some people feel superior, and give a taste of a life that the reader sometimes knows she can’t achieve for herself. There’s the schadenfreude effect, which, even before it had a name, was a powerful inciter to this. Seeing someone powerful fall, although the disgrace and early death of Lady Caroline Lamb was more pathetic than tragic, an unbalanced woman given her head and going slowly mad in the full glare of the public spotlight.
Not that her husband suffered from her disgrace. He went on to become Queen Victoria’s flirt and Prime Minister. Mind you, he had scandal of his own. “Everybody” knew he wasn’t the son of the man who’d acknowledged parentage, but he’d been a younger son and not expected to inherit the title. There was gossip about him, too, but he was a clever man and he seemed to know what to do with that kind of notoriety.
There are people who can take all the scandal on the chin and actually use it to further what they wanted to do. One of my professors at university had this recipe. “Write a scandalous book, one with an outrageous premise, but one you can defend, then, with the eyes of the world on you, put that second, lovingly crafted book out.” Good idea, but I never had the nerve to see that through. I can’t defend something I don’t believe in and I’m not crazy enough to attract attention that way, either.
So what’s a girl to do? Go nuts in the spotlight and be remembered forever, or be gracious and well behaved and be forgotten? 

Monday, September 09, 2013

Why do we write?

To be published on Amazon in October.
As I stare at my computer listening to the gentle hiss of my Bluetooth headset, staring at the last sentence I have just dictated, I am wondering why I am sitting here when I would much rather be downstairs eating chocolate and watching Doctors.
The Duke's Proposal is the first new story I have written since early 2012. I have spent the past 18 months editing and reissuing my long backlist, as well as putting up on Amazon and Smashwords three new books. What I really wanted to write was the second part of my World War II historical, Barbara's War, but decided it might be easier to regenerate my writing brain by starting with something less difficult. Having written so many Regency romantic adventures over the past 10 years I know this genre and the history of this period.
I wrote my first full-length book when I was around 12 years old, I suppose it would be called fan fiction nowadays, as it was my version of a Lorna Hill book. I used to go especially to Foyle's in order to buy the next in the series of pony stories – I think my particular favourite was "So Guy CameToo."
My father and brother laughed at my book and I didn't write anything else until I was in my twenties. In between bringing up my two children, and working at various menial and professional jobs, I scribbled away in pencil on whatever pieces of paper I could find. I completed three contemporary romances and at least six M&B partials. Throughout my teaching career I always held on to the belief that I would be a published author one-day.
Now I have over 30 books traditionally published and three new titles indie published. I no longer define myself as a teacher, wife, mother, grandmother – but as a writer. It's what I am. My friends are mainly writers too, which helps as writing is a strange profession which only another writer understands.
I write because it's what I want to do, it's what gets me up in the morning and sends me happily to sleep at night. Knowing I have written a chapter, or edited several, makes me feel my day has not been wasted. Rather like the feeling I used to have when my children were small – however boring the day had been, I was fulfilled by knowing I had cared for my children.
Nowadays I am writing for my readers as well as myself, I am constantly amazed and thrilled that my books are being purchased in their thousands and usually enjoyed. Finally receiving a decent income from my work is another incentive to keep writing.
Why do you write? Would you carry on writing if you knew nobody else was going to read your work? I know I would – I think most writers believe that one day their work will be appreciated, even if it is years after their demise.
Fenella J Miller

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy: a Tale of Two Covers

Recently, I was offered a choice of Georgette Heyers to review for the Historical Novel Society (Arrow Books are re-publishing all her novels) and I chose one of my favourites, The Grand Sophy. My own copy, a 1962 Pan paperback which belonged to my mother, is falling apart and the pages have gone brown and brittle. It was a win-win situation; I enjoyed doing the review – and I acquired a new copy.

The contrast between the two covers, sixty years apart, struck me forcibly. I don’t know about you, but I like the cover illustration to match with the story. If the heroine is a brunette, say, I get really cross if there is a picture of a voluptuous blonde on the front. I have been known to write to my cover designer, quoting my descriptions of hero and heroine, and sending them pictures of contemporary costumes to make sure they get it right.

Both the Pan and Arrow cover designers were obviously instructed to include a monkey and a parrot in a cage. The Pan designer, correctly, gives Sophy chestnut curls but her pink dress is scarcely Regency. The monkey, Jacko wears a little green hat and a green cummerbund – and my teeth are grinding slightly because, in fact, he wore a scarlet jacket; and the bird in the cage looks more like a canary to me.

However, my main wrath is reserved for the gentleman in the picture, presumably the hero,  Charles Rivenhall. Heyer describes him as ‘a powerfully-built man… who nearly always wore riding-dress in preference to the more fashionable pantaloons and Hessians; tied his cravat in the plainest of styles… and wholly disdained such fopperies as seals, fobs or quizzing-glasses.’ And what do we have? Exactly what Charles is not. However, the strap line calls the book ‘A rollicking Regency comedy’ and I have to confess that the cover does make it look like a fun read.

The new Arrow cover style is chick lit in pink, metallic green and black. The background is pink and the monkey swinging from a branch, the birdcage, Sophy, her horse, and her greyhound, are all black silhouettes. The leaves, Sophy’s dress and the book’s title are  metallic green.

It has a simplicity which I like but I have a few niggles. The horse, judging by its stance, is obviously old. It’s a far cry from Sophy’s thorough-bred Spanish horse, Salamanca. And what’s happened to Sophy’s knees? She would have ridden side-saddle, so they should be crooked over the pommel.

However, the book is stylishly produced with an elegant italic capital letter at the opening of each chapter to give it a classy touch. I hope that the 21st century-style Arrow Georgette Heyer paperbacks attract a whole new generation of readers to the delights of this witty, romantic and stylish writer.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Darker Side of Regency Life

No one can write about the Georgian and Regency period without coming across the darker sides of life during that time, such as bull-baiting and cock-fighting.  Much as we might abhor cruel sports today, they were an important part of life in the 18th and early 19th century.

Hogarth's print of the cock-fight shows rich and poor coming together to enjoy the "sport" and if you look closely you will see a shadow thrown on the pit from a basket suspected above.  It was the practice to "basket" any cock-fighter who indulged in foul play, or any gambler who failed to pay his debts.  The man "basketed" in Hogarth's print is offering his watch as a pledge to get him out and back to the game.

At the height of the cock-fighting days the chief pits in London were the Cock-pit Royal (both George III and George IV owned fighting birds), one at Moss Alley, Southwark and the New Pit, Hoxton, where a famous series of mains (i.e. fights) were fought between the gentlemen of Islington and Hackney for 5 guineas a battle.This was a relative small price to pay for a cock-fight.  In 1815 Joe Gilliver, who fought cocks for George III and George IV, fought a famous main at Lincoln, with seven battles of 5000 guineas each, and Gilliver won five of them.

There is a story that in May 1794 a game-cock was penned up in one of the coops on the deck of HMS Marlborough, along with the common birds that served as food for the sailors.  The Marlborough, commanded by Captain Berkeley,  was engaged in action against the  French at the Battle of Ushant in 1794 (The Glorious First of June), where all its masts were shot away and in the ensuing damage the coops were also blasted apart.  The fighting cock flew to the stump of the mainmast and began to crow and beat its wings.  The crew were well aware that this was the behaviour of fighting birds when they were victorious and they took this for an omen and fought on to victory.Apparently when the story became known, people travelled from all over England to see this cock, and a silver medal was struck by order of the Captain – now Admiral Berkeley – and  the game-cock was allowed to retire to Goodwood where it had the freedom of the parks and wore the medal suspended around its neck.

Is this story true?  I have no idea, as I have only one reference to it and I can't find any evidence to back it up, but knowing the passion of 18th century people for their gaming, I can imagine it happening!

Cock-fighting was certainly big business and very popular. Gentlemen would even hold cock-fights in their houses and it was common for clauses to be inserted into the leases of farms and cottages, ensuring the right of walking a certain number of game-cocks on the land.

In the north of England, the colliers and weavers continued cock-fighting long after it was banned in 1835. Lancashire had its "hush-shops" where unlicensed beer sellers supplied their customers but in a strict rule of silence.  When a "guest" entered, a glass of beer was put before him. Payment was not made then, but by secret arrangement, so that they did not break the law by actually "selling" beer.  Cock-fights were held on land adjacent to these hush shops, with lookouts posted to warn of informers. Bull-baiting also continued in Lancashire into the 19th century, with the last bull-baiting taking place in 1838.

Life was very harsh in England during those times and thankfully the wild scenes of the bull-baiting and the cock-fight have given place to a fever for horse-racing or football, but sometimes it's worth reminding ourselves that there was a harsher side to the colourful life of the past.

Sarah Mallory
Bought for Revenge – pub August 2013 by Harlequin