Monday, August 25, 2014

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds - A new novella

I've a new novella coming out on September 2nd - Mrs Darcy's Diamonds. It's the first of a new series of tales which have jewellery for their inspiration. I've been doing some research into my family history and discovered that on one side of my family were three generations of jewellers and silversmiths - now every time I see a piece of silver or jewellery made in Birmingham I can't help wondering if my ancestors had anything to do with its origins.
This first novella is also inspired by Pride and Prejudice - I've loved re-visiting all the characters from Jane Austen's wonderful novel and adding a few of my own. One of the really fun things I love to do is to find portraits which represent Elizabeth, Darcy, Mrs Bennet, etc. and a great way to do this is to put together a Pinterest board. I hope you'll take a look at the boards I've put together for some of my recent novels - I warn you, it's a highly addictive pastime once you make a start. I loved thinking about the jewellery, costumes, interiors and houses!

I love this portrait of Sir Humphry Davy- I think he makes quite a good Mr Darcy!

Here's a little blurb about Mrs Darcy's Diamonds:
Elizabeth is newly married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the richest man in Derbyshire, owner of a vast estate, and master of Pemberley House. Her new role is daunting at first, and having to deal with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a daily challenge. But, Elizabeth is deeply in love and determined to rise to every test and trial she is forced to endure. When her husband presents her with a diamond ring, part of the precious and irreplaceable Darcy suite of jewels, she feels not only honoured and secure in her husband’s love, but also ready to accept her new responsibilities and position. 
Mrs Darcy knows she will face exacting scrutiny at the approaching Christmas Ball, but it will be her chance to prove that she is a worthy mistress, and she is excited to be playing hostess to the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the gentry families of Derbyshire, as well as Mr Darcy’s French cousins. Antoine de Valois and his sister Louise have arrived at the invitation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth is delighted that this young and lively couple are helping to bring Miss Georgiana Darcy out of her shell. However, when her ring goes missing before the ball, Elizabeth is distraught, and her dilemma further increased by the threat of a scandal that appears to involve the French cousins.

Here's the first chapter-I hope you enjoy it!

Longbourn House, Hertfordshire - 11th December 1812

‘My dear, you are determined to vex me at every turn,’ said Mrs Bennet to her husband on the day before they were to travel to Pemberley House in Derbyshire. ‘I simply must know your opinion.’
Mr Bennet exhaled deeply from behind his newspaper. He preferred breakfast to be a quiet affair, but why he still had an expectation for such a fancy he had no idea. For the last four and twenty years he had listened to Mrs Bennet’s unceasing prattling, chittering, twittering and chatting. He considered that breaking his fast would have been a quieter occasion had he sat in Meryton High Street as the militia marched by with a full military band blaring the songs of the day. He looked coyly round the edge of his newspaper to see Mrs Bennet arrayed in a bandbox of jewels from a sparkling diadem on her head to several rows of necklaces around her neck and layers of bracelets jangling on her wrists.
‘I cannot help thinking that such old-fashioned jewels will be out of place at Pemberley,’ whined Mrs Bennet, ‘and I cannot decide which to wear for the ball. Ought I to wear the cut-steel or the diamond paste? Of course, Lizzy will be wearing the real thing - no paste for her!’
‘My father made the purchase of the cut-steel for my grandmother. They were made by Mr Matthew Boulton himself, were considered most desirable at the time and came all the way from the exotic midlands.’
‘Exotic! What are you talking about, my dear? I never heard Birmingham called anything so fanciful in my life.’ Mrs Bennet caught her husband’s expression and knew she ought to temper her outbursts. ‘Cut-steel is very pretty, to be sure, by candlelight, but I am afraid I shall look like a country bumpkin with neither taste nor fashion. Besides, I am to wear a very fine gown - Lizzy sent the silk herself - and I do want to look my best.’
Mr Bennet’s expression softened. Just occasionally, he saw a glimpse of the girl he’d married, the beauty who had stolen his heart. But he loved to tease.
‘Then the diamond paste will set you off a treat!’ he declared, quickly retreating behind his paper.
Upstairs, Miss Kitty Bennet heard all that was going on below with some amusement. She’d escaped the dining parlour as soon as she could, knowing what was about to transpire. Her own feelings about the coming ball were those of great excitement, spoiled only by the knowledge that her sister Lydia was not to share the momentous occasion. Pulling out Lydia’s last letter, she reread every word. At least Lydia did not seem so very upset that she’d been snubbed or at least, that was the impression she was trying very hard to give.

I know, Kitty dearest, that if Elizabeth were to have her way, she would have invited us, I am certain of it! Mr Darcy has NEVER liked my beloved Wickham, and if we’ve been snubbed, it’s HIS doing. Neglecting a sister will forever be on HIS conscience, if he has one, which I doubt. He can keep his WRETCHED ball - in any case, I daresay it will be a stuffed shirt sort of affair. I shall think of you all when I am surrounded by the handsome beaux of Newcastle on Saturday night at the assembly. Major Armstrong declared last week he has never seen such loveliness gracing the dance floor, and little Pickersnick, Wickie’s right-hand man, has quite stolen my heart. I never thought I should find another to take the place of Denny for flattering with ‘passione d’amore’ but he is the sweetest, most attentive little lap dog. He blushes as scarlet as his coat whenever I look his way, and he is willing to do just anything I ask - even delivering my little notes to Captain Webb who is the most good-looking man of my acquaintance, and I declare, quite in love with me.

Kitty put the letter away. Perhaps Lydia was not as sanguine as she tried to make out. She would have loved her sister to be with her at the ball - try as she might, she knew it just wouldn’t be as much fun without Lydia poking fun at all the Pemberley guests. Still, she was very pleased with her new gown and she couldn’t wait to wear it. It was laid on Lydia’s old bed - stiff, glazed muslin with a peach underskirt, the gown was embroidered on the hem and around the neckline. Her first really grown-up dress, a present from Elizabeth who knew her taste exactly. Lizzy had sent some muslin for sister Mary too, not that she was interested in clothes at all. Kitty decided Mary might have been more excited if she’d been sent a pile of books.

They were to travel to Pemberley that very morning and after stopping just one night at an inn along the way, they would arrive at their destination the following afternoon. The Longbourn servants were already running hither and thither whilst Mrs Bennet emerged from the breakfast parlour flapping her arms like a demented bird, barking instructions, scolding her daughters and generally not being very useful to anyone. Mr Bennet disappeared into his favourite room and escaped into a book, ignoring the sounds without, until summoned that the carriage was ready.
‘Well, my dears, can there be anything more exciting than the prospect before us?’ said Mrs Bennet, settling herself in the coach, arranging cushions behind her head and swaddling wraps around her knees to keep out the cold. ‘Just think, with good luck we may be attending two more weddings on our return.’
‘How so, Mrs Bennet?’ her husband queried.
‘Mary and Kitty, of course.’
Mr Bennet beamed at his daughters sitting opposite. ‘Whose weddings are you gracing with your presence, my dears?’
‘Oh, Mr Bennet!’ His wife looked at him in exasperation. ‘I am talking of their weddings - how can you be so obtuse?’
‘Are they engaged? Congratulations, Mary, congratulations Kitty - and all arranged without any inconvenience to myself. Mrs Bennet, I declare you are England’s greatest matchmaker.’
‘I declare you enjoy vexing me on purpose,’ Mrs Bennet replied, clamping her lips together and pointedly staring out of the window as they passed through Meryton and out onto the open road.
Mr Bennet merely winked at his daughters, opened his book and promptly fell asleep.

Jane Odiwe

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Monsoon Mists

This month has seen the publication of the final part of my Kinross trilogy, Monsoon Mists. Set mostly in India, in 1759, the story follows the adventures of Jamie Kinross, younger son of the couple in Trade Winds (book 1) and brother of Brice from Highland Storms (book 2).  It feels like I’ve come full circle now, although there are other members of the Kinross family trying to invade my mind so who knows?  I may return to them in the future.  In the meantime, here is the blurb and a short excerpt from Monsoon Mists:-

Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought …

It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.

Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.

There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”.  Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.

When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

Monsoon Mists, excerpt:-

The smile Mr Kinross sent her this time was nothing short of dazzling. Zar was glad she was sitting down as it definitely did something strange to her innards. Then a teasing glint flashed in his eyes.
            ‘So have you thought any more about my proposition?’ he asked.
            ‘Which proposition would that be?’ Zar frowned, caught off-guard by his question.
            ‘To, er … amuse you if you’re in need of a diversion.’
            Zar couldn’t stop her mouth from falling open, but shut it quickly again as she sent him her most quelling glance. ‘Really, Mr Kinross, I don’t know to what you are referring.’
            ‘Oh, I think you do.’
            He was still smiling and Zar felt unaccountably hot all of a sudden. But she was also outraged. She would make it clear to him she was not that kind of woman.
            ‘I’ll have you know I’m a respectable widow. Neither you, nor anyone else, will ever set foot in my bedroom and I’d thank you not to refer to such things again.’
            She turned to stare out the window while she tried to force her breathing to return to normal. For some reason she was having trouble inhaling enough air and it was making her chest heave unbecomingly.
            ‘Now that sounds distinctly like a challenge to me. Would you like to bet on it?’
            ‘What?’ Zar swivelled round and stared at Kinross. The effrontery of the man.
            ‘I’ll wager one hundred rupees that I will. Set foot in your bedroom, that is.’ He raised his eyebrows at her, as if daring her to accept. ‘Say, within the next two weeks?’ he added, a teasing note in his voice.
            ‘I don’t believe I’m hearing―’
            ‘Very well, two hundred rupees. Deal?’
            ‘Now see here, Mr Kinross―’
            ‘You drive a hard bargain, Mrs Miller. Three hundred it is.’
            Zar almost stamped her foot in frustration, but managed to restrain herself at the last minute. ‘I’m not making a wager with you!’
            ‘Ah, you’re afraid you’ll lose. I thought so.’
            His smug expression made Zar see red. She clenched her fists by her side and scowled at him. ‘I am not.’
            ‘Well, then, you almost certainly stand to gain three hundred rupees. That can’t be bad, can it?’
            Zar took a deep breath and tried to think, but Kinross’s quicksilver gaze held hers and jumbled her thought processes. He was right. It would be the easiest money she’d ever earned. But then why was he even proposing such a thing? There must be a catch … For the life of her, she couldn’t think of one though. ‘Oh, very well, I accept your wager. But I’m not meeting you anywhere private for you to hand over my winnings, is that clear?’
            ‘Perfectly.’ He bowed. ‘I will allow you to decide entirely. If you win, of course.’
            Zar was about to insist that she would, but just then her step-son came back into the room and she didn’t have a chance to say anything else.

Buy links:-

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Covent Garden

Many of my books feature a very small part of London—Covent Garden and the area around it. I love Covent Garden. These days you can browse among the stalls in the piazza and listen to opera singers busking. The stores in the square and the streets are a mixture of modern chains like Swarovski and Monsoon, and small boutiques. It’s eternally popular, and always thronged with people. Street performers add more fun, and the Transport Museum is right there.
It’s always been that way, since the piazza was built in the seventeenth century. It was intended to be a gracious square to house the rich and high class of London, but very few ever lived there. They were already moving further west, and so the piazza was a bit of a white elephant for a while. Then the market moved in and until the late twentieth century, many Londoners bought their fruit and vegetables in the early morning. When the market was moved out of town, the traders moved in.
One side of the square is dominated by the Royal Opera House. A few years ago, in its expansion, the megalith that is the opera house demolished the site of Tom’s Coffee House, to make room. Tom’s was always a disreputable place, where prostitutes met their customers, but since Tom King and his wife banned all sexual goings-on in the building, the authorities could never make a prosecution stick.
Covent Garden was the center of the sex trade in London. The houses bordering the square, the streets nearby and the ramshackle stalls that used to line the central building were full of prostitutes, madams, and people who catered to the sex trade, like the condom sellers and the sex toy sellers. But it was still hugely popular with the rich and wealthy. The male half, at any rate.
Anyone thinking that they were staid and respectable in the past, needs to read one of the guides published at the time, or the scurrilous naughty pamphlets, the advertising bills, the accounts of court cases involving the denizens of the place and even “Fanny Hill.” In the days when there was no reliable contraception, they had to get inventive!
I set a scene in “Rogue in Red Velvet” there, and on a visit to London I took masses of photographs of the house I picked to set the scene. My respectable widow heroine, Connie, is drugged and put up for sale at one of the mock-auctions there. Alex is forced to rescue her and then devise a scheme to restore her reputation! It was a great excuse to visit the place again!
Richard and Rose also had dealings there in “Maiden Lane,” which is a narrow street close to the Garden and contains one of the oldest restaurants in London.
Of course, also nearby you can find Drury Lane Theatre and Bow Street Magistrate’s Court. Further north was the “rookery” of Seven Dials, where no respectable person ventured, for fear of being stripped, robbed and even murdered, so you had to watch your step!

You can read more about Rogue in Red Velvet here: 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

What do you think Fitzwilliam Darcy looks like?

I expect that we all have a mental image of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett in our head – but have we gained these from reading the book or from the many Pride & Prejudice film, TV adaptations and variations we have seen over the years? Jane did not include any clues to colouring and looks in her book other than mentioning that her characters were handsome, or that they had magnificent eyes. My most recent Regency, "The Duke and the Vicar's Daughter", has an image of a Regency gentleman on the cover who could be Darcy. I always imagine him as being the traditionally tall, dark and handsome and Bingley as being more slender and fair haired, Elizabeth as a brunette with hazel eyes, Jane and Lydia as blondes, Kitty dark haired and Mary as mouse. Georgiana, I would imagine, would look like her brother– so therefore dark haired and striking.
My Jane Austen retailing, Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley, has Jane on the front as I imagined her. I am writing a ghost story set at Pemberley with Kitty and Georgiana as the main protagonists, although Darcy and Lizzy also take centre stage, plus the obligatory handsome hero for Kitty to fall in love with. He, as most of my heroes are, is of a similar style to Fitzwilliam. When writing a Regency I have to admit that Sean Bean, as the character Richard Sharpe from Bernard Cornwall's fantastic series of novels, is my ideal. That said, I rarely have a fair haired hero, but I always have the delectable Sean Bean in mind when I'm writing – although nowadays Richard Armitage has replaced him as my gentleman of choice.
I have read that Jane Austen used Chatsworth house as her model for Pemberley – I think that Sudbury House was used in one of the TV adaptations, but I prefer the one used in Lost in Austen – Harewood House - for Pemberley. This is my favourite.
Strangely enough I don't visualise Darcy as Colin Firth - although no doubt millions of women do! I should be interested to hear if my imaginings for the characters in Pride & Prejudice are the same as yours. Fenella J Miller

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Tale of Two 17th century Houses

A couple of weeks ago, on the way back from the fabulous RNA conference in Telford, I visited Stokesay Castle. Stokesay was built in the 13th century but I was particularly interested in its 17th century history as my current book is set in the Civil War period. During this time, Stokesay belonged to the Craven family so there is also a connection to the work I do at the former Craven hunting lodge at Ashdown House; I couldn’t wait to visit.

Stokesay is small as castles go, more of a fortified manor house, but with everything you could want from a
real castle – towers, a moat, a gatehouse. It was the timber-framed gatehouse that particularly fascinated me since it looked medieval to my untrained eye. I was astonished to read that it had been built for William Craven in 1640 – 41 at the not inconsiderable cost of £530. Built by local craftsmen, the style was based on that of townhouses in nearby Ludlow.

Craven also made alterations to the interior of the castle, including adding this splendid chimney piece in the medieval solar.

As a Royalist, Craven garrisoned Stokesay on behalf of King Charles I during the Civil War, the only time in its history that the castle was put to military use. However the parliamentarians took Stokesay in 1645 and demolished the curtain wall, but happily they left the gatehouse standing.

Almost twenty years to the day after he had built Stokesay, William Craven constructed Ashdown House in
a very different style. Clearly fashions in architecture and perhaps his taste in building had changed during that period.  Ashdown is a typical Restoration building with Dutch and French influences. The two buildings could hardly look more different!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Royal Childhood

I love glimpsing how things must have been in the past and the new exhibition Royal Childhood in the Buckingham Palace State Rooms does just that. Toys so often get broken and children’s clothes wear out, so it’s fascinating to see these rare things from royal childhoods going back 250 years.

a) Georgian doll’s house, 1780s.

The exhibition opens with a doll’s house from the 1780s made for George III’s daughters by the carpenter on the royal yacht. The workmanship is a touch rough and ready - it looks as though he probably made the four poster bed and the furniture, too. George III had six daughters: Charlotte, Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia and Amelia, and the doll’s house is large enough for several princesses to play side by side without squabbling. You can tell that it was much-played-with.

Toys are, by their very nature ephemeral, so perhaps it’s not surprising that there are no toys belonging to Queen Victoria’s sons. Doubtless, by the time they had been fought over by Princes Albert Edward, Alfred, Arthur and eventually Leopold, they would have been considerably the worse for wear.
b) Princess Victoria’s home-made wooden dolls, 1820s-1833

However, there is a selection of Queen Victoria’s home-made wooden dolls, dressed by herself as characters from ballets or operas she’d enjoyed – including the ballet dancer, Maria Taglioni. I found them rather poignant; they speak of a lonely childhood with few other children to play with. Still, I hope that she enjoyed talking about the shows she’d seen with her governess, Lehzen, and discussing how to dress the newest doll. 

When Princess Victoria was fourteen, all her dolls were wrapped up carefully and put away; perhaps she felt her childhood was at an end and she must now move on to more adult things.

c) ‘Blonde’ dress worn by Princess Victoria, c. 1830

If nineteenth century royal toys are in short supply, there are some fascinating clothes. There’s a very pretty ‘blonde’ dress belonging to the young Princess Victoria, for example. ‘Blonde’, that is blonde lace, first appeared in France in 1755. It was a silk lace of two threads, twisted and formed into hexagonal meshes. The princess’s dress was obviously made for a special occasion and, in fact, it looks very like the illustration of a bridal dress in The Weekly Belle Assemblée from April 1835, also described as made of blonde lace.

d) Red velvet walking suit belonging to Prince George (later King George V), c. 1867-8

There is a red walking suit which belonged to the infant George V, dating from 1867-8. Small boys were dressed as girls until they were five or six years old. Then came the big day when they were ‘breeched’. After that, they wore a ‘skeleton suit’ until the 1830s, followed by a ‘tunic suit’ until sailor suits became fashionable in about 1870.

e) First shoes

I was very taken with a row of tiny first shoes dating from the 1840s on. You can see that there was no difference between right and left feet; that innovation came in after c.1870.   

f) Rocking horse belonging to Princess Elizabeth, c.1930-35

I have chosen to concentrate on the earlier objects on display – this is the Historical Romance blog, after all! But there are plenty of toys, exercise books, clothes, photographs and films from the 20th century to enjoy, too. I particularly liked the young Princess Elizabeth’s rocking horse from the 1930s.

Images courtesy of: photos b, c, d, and f, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Photo a, © Historic Royal Palaces. Photographer Hayley Madden with all use.
Photo e, by Elizabeth Hawksley

Royal Childhood: a special exhibition in the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace
26 July – 28 September, 2014, 

Elizabeth Hawksley