Thursday, December 17, 2015

Three Days at Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle - The Quadrangle
I have been to Windsor many times before, but somehow visiting the castle was something that was always left for another day. Not enough time, too late in the day or the children were too small and they would have had no patience for a lengthy visit. So it was something jotted on my ever-growing ‘bucket list’. But earlier in November I had the great pleasure of not only visiting, but also spending the day there in excellent company. Thanks to Catherine Curzon from ‘A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life’ and to Mr Arturo Ramirez, who is one of the fortunate people who have Windsor Castle entrusted to their care, the tour was very much like a ride on the magic carpet, as we were guided by Mr Ramirez and had the privilege of hearing countless precious snippets from the castle’s long history.

I was so taken with the wonderful experience that a few days later I visited again. I must admit that I would happily loiter for hours in a historic place examining artefacts or waiting for that elusive people-free photo. This time I did not have to wait too long. It was a weekday and at times it felt like I had the place all to myself. 

Sensibly, indoor photography is not permitted, but countless images are available for research and personal use on the Royal Collection Trust websiteSo thankfully I will not have to rely just on my memory to catalogue all the gems I have seen. Such as the burnous currently displayed in the Grand Vestibule. It was taken from Napoleon’s fleeing coach, after the battle of Waterloo – a flamboyant garment, bright-red with golden trimmings, that amongst other things served to dispel the myth of Napoleon’s stature and prove that the cartoons of the time were largely propaganda, and he was in fact around 5’6” in height.

A great many artefacts were displayed elsewhere, in the Drawings Gallery, as part of the ‘Waterloo at Windsor’ exhibition. Watercolours showing the personages of the day; the site of battles; the crowds gathered in 1816 at the Bullocks Museum in London, where Napoleon’s captured carriage was exhibited for a while. More fascinating still, the original letter of surrender that he had sent the Prince Regent from Rochefort on the 13th of July 1815. In that brief note, Napoleon declared that he had terminated his political career and had determined to throw himself on the hospitality of the British people and claim the protection of their laws, from ‘the most powerful, most constant and the most generous’ of his enemies.

As we know, the flattery did not serve him well. By the time the letter was delivered, Napoleon was already on his way to St. Helena. Perhaps the Prince might have responded differently had the letter reached him sooner. Or perhaps not. In the decade of ‘Peterloo’ there was more than enough tension in Britain without the added powder keg of having the former emperor settled in some English country-house.

We are never to know if the letter of surrender conveyed mere flattery or genuine thought, but I still chuckle at the anecdote showing that it was not Napoleon whom the Prince Regent regarded as his very worst enemy. The story has it that, when the then King George IV was told that his worst enemy was dead at last, he had exclaimed ‘Is she, by God!’ – he was referring to his estranged wife.

I am one of those people who would find more familiar faces in the large canvas depicting Queen Caroline’s trial than in any images of modern-day parliamentary proceedings, so it was no surprise that of all the treasures displayed at Windsor Castle it was those with links to the Georgian period that had my full attention. Such as the small but deeply moving exhibit in one of the display cabinets in the Grand Vestibule: a small silver locket containing the very bullet that killed Admiral Lord Nelson and which, Mr Ramirez told us, still has remnants of golden braiding from Lord Nelson’s epaulette embedded in its surface.

Then there was the story of the Waterloo elm, a towering tree that Lord Wellington’s command post was set beneath. After the battle, the spot had become one of pilgrimage, and the tree a target for souvenir hunters, so much so that the owner of the field, heartily sick of having his crops trampled over, had decided to cut it down. As serendipity would have it, at the time the site was visited by Mr John Children, an antiquarian from the British Library, who was travelling with his daughter Anna. He persuaded the farmer to allow Anna to sketch the tree in situ, then bought the timber and brought it to Britain to entrust it to the skill of Mr Thomas Chippendale the Younger, who fashioned the Waterloo Chair. It is currently on display in the King’s Drawing Room – an exquisite piece ornamented with allegoric carvings and an inscription devised by the Earl of Mornington, the Duke of Wellington’s elder brother, whereby the Waterloo Chair was dedicated to King George IV, ‘liberator of Europe’.

So much to see, so many treasures! The Sèvres ‘Table of the Great Commanders’ (La Table des Grands Capitains) commissioned by Napoleon. His writing desk. The exquisite Rockingham Service, ‘probably the most ambitious porcelain service ever made by a British factory’ (Windsor Castle Guide p.36) commissioned by King William IV but only finished in time for Queen Victoria’s coronation. King George IV’s statue, its design largely chosen by the sitter due to a flattering well-turned calf. And in the semi-state apartments the bright and colourful Crimson Drawing Room, fully restored to its Georgian splendour. We see it now, we are told, just as King George IV would have seen it, not faded with the passage of time but in all its new and glittering brilliance – the colours vibrant and fresh, the gold leaf decorations glowing – its restoration to its original glory one of the fortunate outcomes of the devastating fire of 1992.

Windsor at Christmas
I could not resist the temptation of going back to Windsor for the third time in as many weeks, to see the Castle decorated for the festive season. There is a gorgeous Christmas tree in the Crimson Drawing Room now, a towering giant in St George’s Hall – very nearly as tall as the hall itself – and in the Octagon Dining Room there is a delightful homage to Queen Charlotte, King George III’s queen, who had introduced the Christmas traditions of her native country at the royal court of England. It is sometimes mistakenly believed that we owe the Christmas tree to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The novel custom did indeed take root throughout the land during Queen Victoria’s reign, as everyone was keen to follow in the footsteps of a dearly loved royal couple, but it was Queen Charlotte who first introduced it, by having a yew tree placed in a tub in her drawing room, which she decorated with sweetmeats flavoured with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Two hundred years later, there is a large branch set in a tub in the Octagon Drawing Room, its decorations reminiscent of Queen Charlotte’s: beautiful little ornaments cleverly crafted from cinnamon sticks and dried oranges and limes.

In the nearby State Dining Room, originally intended as George IV’s private one, we are treated to an exquisite display of Regency dining splendour, of glittering epergnes and elaborate pyramids of glazed fruits and berries, looking delightfully real to the unsuspecting eye, and from a display board we learn of the plum broth served to the Royal Household for Christmas 1815, made of 90 lbs of beef, 38 lbs of veal, 78 lbs currants and as many lbs of raisins, to which spices, “cochinile”, prunes, Lisbon sugar, butter and no less than 50 eggs were added.

I am very tempted to scale down the recipe and try it out, but since the maths might be a challenge I should have a fallback option for Christmas dinner :)

Have a wonderful Christmas, however adventurous your cooking, and do visit Windsor Castle decked in its seasonal splendour if you get the chance!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Reckless In Pink

I have a new book out this month!

Like the royals for whom they were named, the Emperors of London family have enemies and rivals of their own…  As a soldier for the Crown, Dominic is charged with locating the Young Pretender to the British throne so he can be tried as a traitor. But his mission is altered when he meets Claudia Shaw, an intriguing young woman who has inherited a house of ill repute. In an effort to protect Claudia from her own recklessness, Dominic finds himself allowing the Pretender to slip away…

Claudia is one of the Emperors of London, but her family despairs of her impetuous behavior. And try as he might, the disciplined Dominic cannot quite curb her excesses. In fact, she soon drags him into her adventures—and toward a passion neither can resist. But when a deadly secret comes to light that puts their lives, and their love, at risk, Claudia won’t allow Dominic to sacrifice himself. She is determined to have him—even if it means getting the Young Pretender out of the way herself.

About the Emperors of London
What if...the Old Pretender was married first, before he married his official wife? What if he had legitimate children, carefully hidden away from the authorities?
The Emperors of London were given outlandish names by their parents, hence the nickname. Why the Duke of Kirkburton and his sisters chose to do so nobody knows, but the children bear the names with reasonable humor. However, as members of one of Britain’s most influential and powerful family networks, they have certain obligations, not least of which is to keep the Crown secure. In the volatile 1750’s, after the death of the popular Prince of Wales, only a sickly old man and a young boy are left to face the threats from Europe. The Stuarts aren’t finished yet, and they could do a great deal of damage before they finally leave the theatre of power.


This early in the morning very few people of fashion ventured out into Hyde Park, so Claudia considered herself safe for half an hour to follow her inclinations. At the moment, that included riding properly, not the sedate walk allowed by society.
The rough track extended before her like a challenge, and only one or two people were cantering along it. The morning mist, like steam from a kettle, drifted around the bare earth and the grass bordering it. Trees spread their sheltering boughs at a short distance. Behind her lay houses and civilization. In front, who knew?
Claudia walked her horse, urged him to trot, and then to canter. The breeze drifted past, ruffling her hair, even though she’d taken care to pin it firmly to her head, and her hat on top of that.
As she passed a man riding on a fine chestnut, she kicked her mount into a gallop and shrieked.
Such delight, to let herself go for just a few minutes! Here in town she had to think every moment of every day, work out what she should do and why, and behave like a proper lady.
Hooves thundered behind her in a pounding gallop. A race! Her heart quickened and she urged her horse faster, leaning over his neck to gain an extra spurt of speed.
Her hat flew off, but apart from a shot of annoyance she ignored it. The breeze accelerated to a wind, and some of her hairpins went, too. She shouted with laughter, glanced to the side, and then back again.
Grim determination delineated the features of the man galloping by her side. He returned her glance.
After a moment, she recognized him. He looked nothing like the exquisite she’d met in the company of her brother at the draper’s.
This man wore plain riding-dress and rode with the skill of someone born in the saddle. No polite society smile graced his grim features. The hooded eyes and lazy regard were nowhere in evidence. In that one glance his sharp, fierce glare had almost stunned her.
Enough to make her lose her concentration for the second it took her horse to stumble. She had to stop.
Regaining her seat, she pulled on the reins, shortening them as her mount slowed his pace.
Lord St. Just did the unforgiveable. He rode close and tried to seize the reins. “What are you doing?” she demanded, snatching them out of the way.
“Dismount,” he ordered. That was what it was—an order.
Although she usually responded badly to commands, Claudia obeyed this one. If she did not, who could tell what he would do? She didn’t know him well enough to take the risk of defying him. If he told her brother what he’d just witnessed, Marcus could well make her early morning gallops impossible.
Sighing in exaggerated annoyance, she drew her horse to a halt by a couple of large elm trees. Before she could slide out of the saddle, he was off his horse and had his hands around her waist. His firm grasp and the way he held her as if she weighed nothing sent exhilaration flying through her. He settled her gently on the ground.
Then his annoyed expression brought her back to earth. “What were you thinking? I saw you and heard you cry for help.”
Even his voice sounded sharper, harder. She preferred this no-nonsense viscount to the man of fashion she’d met yesterday. However, she couldn’t allow him to get away with a blatant untruth. “I was shouting with pleasure, not crying for help. Don’t you know the difference?”
An expression she could only describe as wolfish made his eyes brighter, gleaming with feral promise. “Sometimes they sound remarkably similar.”
Dragging her close, he brought his lips down on hers.
When she gasped, he drove his tongue into her mouth. Was the man mad?
Mad or not, he kissed extremely well. Abandoning her reputation and her reason, Claudia flung her arm around his neck and returned his embrace with all the enthusiasm she could muster. Almost better than a dawn gallop.
He groaned, and the vibrations echoed deep in her throat. He liked this as much as she did. He slid his tongue around the interior of her mouth. She caressed it, the connection intimate enough to send a thrill right to the heart of her.
When he tried to pull away, she tightened her hold on him. She wasn’t ready for this to stop.
Unfortunately his strength was superior to hers, and on his second attempt he pulled away. But she didn’t let go.
“Lady Claudia, you are a flirt.”
She smiled wickedly. “Oh, I’d say this was a bit more than flirting, wouldn’t you?”

Friday, December 11, 2015


I went to see ‘Suffragette’ last month and although I enjoyed it, I do have some reservations about its production. For one thing it seems sad that Meryl Streep got to be Emmeline Pankhurst (even if she was only in it for about five seconds). As a feminist, Emmeline and her daughter Christabel have always heroines of mine and it seems a pity that in order to attract the American market we had to hand over one of our greatest female role models to the US. Not that I have anything against Meryl Streep; she’s a fantastic actor, but she got to play Maggie. Did we really have to hand over Emmeline as well?
It also occurred to me that it’s high time we had a film based on the fantastic Pankhurst women. When I was younger I was always more than a little smitten by the fragile prettiness of Emmeline and Christabel, but as I‘ve got older I’ve learnt to appreciate the more principaled charms of Sylvia, who believed that universal suffrage and economic equality were the right of everyone, regardless of gender or social status. Emmeline and Christabel, much as I love them, had some fairly dodgy views on exactly what sort of person should be allowed the vote. Adele, the younger sister, is rarely spoken of and I can see why. She had some extremist views herself and argued with her mother and sisters so violently she ended up emigrating to Australia so as not to be in the same hemisphere as them. There were also two sons who rarely get mentioned, one dying at the age of four, the other as a very young man. The life and times of the fighting Pankhursts have enough material for several films. Surely one film isn’t beyond the British Film Industry?
Finally for me personally, the film got me thinking about a novel I wrote some years ago with a suffragette as the central character. I got stuck halfway through and put it aside in favour of other projects. But seeing the film has re-galvanised my enthusiasm so I had another look at it and am hoping finish it off in the New year.
Jacqueline Farrell writes historical and paranormal romances with The Wild Rose Press. Her two paranormal novels Sophronia and the Vampire and Maids, Mothers and Crones can be purchased from Amazon. Her latest novel, a historical romance, The Scarlet Queen is available from Amazon and all good e-book stores.  Follow her on twitter @jacquiefw1 and on her website

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Christmas on the Home Front.

Rationing was introduced in the January of 1940 and by the end of the year there was little in the shops in the way of luxuries – that is unless you were rich enough to access the black market.
The Minister of Transport sent this Christmas message to the British public. 'I wish I could be a Santa Claus this Christmas and produce out of the bag hundreds of extra trains, miles of additional tracks and thousands of extra railway workers, so that you could travel where and as you wish – and in comfort.
Indeed, I have to curtail Christmas passenger trains and try to persuade you not to travel at all. You know this must be a stern Christmas-tide – one during which we must work for victory. The enemy won't wait while we take a Christmas holiday, and therefore railways must continue to devote all their energies to vital war transport.
There are no extra holidays for railway workers – for you no extra travelling facilities. Forgive no presents this year, but best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.'
The Post Office also made an appeal to the public, this time to post early. (No change there then.)
Posting should be completed by December 18, and the earlier the better. In normal times the Post Office has a difficult task of disposing of the heavy Christmas traffic, and the task can only be accomplished by engaging some 80,000 temporary workers throughout the country. This year the difficulties have been increased because of the release of 40,000 trained men for the Forces, the slowing up of road and rail transport because of the blackout, and the need for confining deliveries, and collections, as far as possible, to the short hours of daylight.
Home decorations became a do-it-yourself affair.

Woman & Home had a Christmas special in which they suggested the Christmas table could be made special by decorating the drinking glasses with coloured stars cut from sticky paper and stuck on the outside of the glass. It also suggested that pine-cone clusters should be hung about the house. These to be made of strands of plaited, coloured raffia which were attached to the cones. Said cones could be painted gold or silver or other "gay colours".
No doubt paper chains were made and hung about the place.
Those that live in rural areas obviously fared better than city dwellers but they were less likely to be bombed and had access to 'wild' food such as berries, mushrooms and rabbit. There was also more likelihood of them getting eggs and dairy products from local farms. If there was alcohol it would perhaps be home-made wine in the country, and beer at the pub for everyone else.
Everyone knows about famous truce in the trenches the first Christmas of World War I but did you know that Christmas of 1940 the German Embassy in Washington sent word to the British Government that Germany was prepared to suspend bombing missions against Britain over the Christmas period if the RAF did the same. No formal arrangement was made, but neither side launched any attacks between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. As the weather was overcast the lack of attacks was attributed to this.

I hope you all have happy Christmas and a peaceful and healthy New Year. (US) (UK)
Christmas at Highfield Court was previously published as Lord Atherton's Ward.
Extra scenes have been added to this book.
When their father, Sir John, dies leaving Sarah Ellison and her younger sister Jane orphaned, his choice of guardian is entirely disagreeable to Sarah – particularly with Lord Atherton's insistence that they leave their family home and move to Highfield Court to remain under the care of his mother. Will the spirit of Christmas work it's magic or will Sarah continue to alienate Lord Atherton with her headstrong behaviour or prove that she is a girl he can respect?
 Fenella J Miller

Monday, December 07, 2015

Great Oaks from Little Acorns

For me one of the pleasures of crisp wintry days is walking through the woods with my dog. I love the crunch of leaves underfoot and the amazing shapes of the trees, especially at this time of year when their branches are bare. Trees are special and the ancient ones especially so, yew, beech and oak.

The Celts, the Norse and the Germanic races held the oak as sacred from pre-Christian times. From the pagan image of the Green Man garlanded by oak leaves found in many parish churches to the writing of Shakespeare and Keats, the oak has rooted itself deep in the British national consciousness and its influence is represented in many ways.

The Royal Oak is the second most popular pub name in Britain, after the Red Lion. Pub names are key words and phrases that unlock doors to social and military history, folklore, national heroes and heroines, natural history, dialects, trades, industries and professions, sports and the sometimes odd British sense of humour.

The original Royal Oak was the Boscobel Oak near Shifnal in Shropshire where King Charles II and
Colonel Careless hid from noon to dusk after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. After the Restoration, the 29th May, the King's birthday was declared Royal Oak Day. Ironically, it was the popular cult of the Boscobel Oak that killed the tree itself; it was dead by the end of the nineteenth century because patriotic souvenir-hunters tore off its branches, thereby hastening its demise.

The association of oak trees with national heroes can be no coincidence. Where else could Robin Hood have met his Merry Men than under the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest? The story could not have been the same, either visually or symbolically if the tree had been a silver birch. The joint symbolism of the hero and the talismanic tree is a powerful one. Here the qualities of both man and tree are entwined, representing strength, protection, durability, courage and truth.

The connection of hero and oak tree can also be traced through King Arthur, whose Round Table was said to be hewn from a massive piece of oak and whose supposed coffin at Glastonbury Abbey was made from a hollowed out oak tree. Other oak trees that have been associated with British heroes include the Elderslie Oak, which was said to have sheltered William Wallace and 300 of his men (that must have been a BIG tree!) and Owen Glendower’s Oak from which tree he witnessed the battle between King Henry IV and Henry Percy, Macbeth’s Oak at Birnam and Sir Philip Sydney’s oak tree at Penshurst. In all cases the trees are associated with or commemorate a war hero. They shed some of their strength and gravitas on the character, whose exploits mirror the timeless power of the tree.

It is significant that in most cases the oak tree in English folklore has been a symbol of loyalty rather than of  revolution, Kett’s Oak, in Norfolk, however is a symbol of rebellion. In July 1549 Robert Kett led an uprising against the Crown to demand the end to the practice of enclosure of common land. He made a rousing speech beneath the oak tree on the village green in Wymondham and led a mob in the march on Norwich, where he captured the castle. Defeated by the Earl of Warwick, Kett was condemned for treason and hanged.  His oak tree lived on, however, and became a symbol of freedom from oppression. Under the name of the Reformation Oak it became a place of regular pilgrimage for political radicals.

In 1763 Roger Fisher, published Heart of Oak, The British Bulwark, in which he argued empires rose or fell depending on their abundance or dearth of the oak. Fisher warned that the gentry were squandering the future by leaving woodlands to be destroyed by animals protected for the hunt, frittering away the birthright of future Britons so they might fund their passions for "horses and dogs, wine and women, cards and folly". "We are preying on our vitals," Fisher warned, "yet the bulk of the nation is insensible to it." It was left to the newly formed Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts to change attitudes. The Society offered prizes to those who planted the most trees - supremely the oak - but also the softwood conifers used for masts. As a result, acorn fever took hold. The great Dukes planted acre after acre of oak trees. Naval officers on leave, like Collingwood, went around surreptitiously scattering acorns from holes in his breeches in the parks of his unsuspecting hosts!

During Nelson’s time 2000 oaks would have been used to build a 74 gun warship.These ships were the "wooden walls" that protected Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. In Garrick’s famous poem the “hearts of oak” were both the British ships of the line and the men who sailed them. These were the stalwart defence, the protection against the ever-present threat of foreign invasion that had been a motif of British life for centuries.

Forests such as Sherwood and Savernake make much of their famous oak trees to this day. The Duke's Vaunt in Savernake Forest was said to be the place where Jane Seymour's brother used to stand and view his estate. In the 19th century it was so vast that they were able to fit 20 boys from nearby Marlborough school within the hollow trunk!

 The language of trees is in use every day. We are rooted in history, we branch out, we grow or re-grow, and we trace our family tree.  Genealogy is frequently represented by the image of the tree with its visible roots going down into the earth.  Even today the focus of many English villages is an ancient oak on a village green. In its shade people sit and talk. Notices pinned to its bark tell of fetes and fairs, marriages and funerals, items lost and found and other announcements of local importance. The oak has been and continues to be part of the fabric of English life.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bejewelled Treasure at the V & A

Usually, V & A exhibition previews are vociferous affairs; smartly-dressed people from the Art World greet each other with shrieks; photographers, muscles rippling, set up their tripods; press reviewers network. It’s a place where it’s difficult to make oneself heard.

19th century turban jewel, worn by ruling Nizams: gold, silver, diamonds, with pendant spinels
The preview of the Bejewelled Treasure: the Al Thani collection exhibition was very different.

Antique Jaipur bracelet: gold, ruby, spinel, diamond. 

The darkened exhibition space was ablaze with the sparkle and fire from so many rubies, spinels, emeralds, pearls and diamonds that I was temporarily almost blinded. I found myself holding my breath. I certainly couldn’t speak! Around me, there was an almost stunned hush; photographers edged round quietly; conversations were muted. It was as if we were all overwhelmed by the magnificence of the jewels on display.

Star of Golconda brooch, Cartier, 2011: diamonds in platinum and white gold 

I’ve never seen such huge stones. When I eventually pulled myself together and photographed some emerald rings, I had to ask someone to put her hand on the glass beside them to demonstrate their sheer size. They were absolutely enormous.

Parrot owned by the Nizams of Hyderabad, Jaipur

This magnificent collection, together with three superb pieces from the Royal collection, displays a hundred items ranging from an 18th century bejewelled gold tiger’s head finial from Sultan Tipu of Mysore’s throne; to the Maharaja of Nawanagar’s 20th century diamond-encrusted turban ornament; a number of jewelled daggers; and a selection of dazzling necklaces, bracelets, rings and brooches from both India and Europe.  

19th-20th century necklaces: Hyderabad
The exhibition triumphantly demonstrates the skill of Indian jewellery-making from the 17th century to modern times. It is divided into six sections. It opens with The Treasury, evoking the storehouses of the Mughal emperors which held precious stones of spectacular size. The Court displays objects like throne finials and jewellery belonging to famous rulers like Shah Jahan.  I found the Kundan and Enamel section particularly interesting; it explores traditional Indian jewellery techniques used in setting precious stones with a fascinating film of jewellers at work.

18th century necklace: spinel and pearl

The Age of Transition and Modernity sections show Western styles, particularly Art Deco where the more open settings allow light to shine through the cut stones, gradually influencing Indian jewellery design with some wonderful modern examples by Bhagat of Mumbai. In return, Western designers, like Cartier, re-interpreted traditional Indian forms and introduced startling new colour combinations, e.g. emeralds and sapphires. The final section, Contemporary Masters, highlights the continuing influence of traditional Indian jewellery and its reinterpretation in a modern idiom.

Turban jewel, Cartier, 2012: emerald carved in India 

This exhibition has the Wow! factor in spades. Highly recommended for banishing those winter blues.

Photographs by Elizabeth Hawksley
Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection (21 November 2015 – 28 March 2016), sponsored by Wartski.

Elizabeth Hawksley


Friday, December 04, 2015

A Heartfelt 'Thank You' To My First Publisher

A few days ago I received an email telling me that Robert Hale Ltd, my first ever publisher, is closing. I was very sorry to hear this as I had a long and happy relationship with them, stretching back to 2000 when I submitted a Regency romance,  A Most Unusual Governess, and they sent me back a magical acceptance letter. I will never forget the kind final sentence, which said the book was so accomplished they wondered if I had written before.

In fact, I had been writing all my life but I had never been published before. Like most aspiring authors, I had had lots of rejections, so their remark meant a great deal to me. That kind of personal, encouraging touch was typical of Hale's dealings with their authors. They were renowned for their chivalrous behaviour, their prompt replies and their willingness to encourage new talent.
For those who don't know anything about the firm, Hale were a well-loved and well-respected UK publishing house, established in 1936. They were independent and family-owned, working from their own building in London's Clerkenwell district and publishing many famous names, amongst them one of my own favourite authors, Jean Plaidy,

It is a sobering thought, but without Robert Hale Ltd, I don't think my series of Jane Austen heroes' diaries would exist. I had no idea what they would make of Darcy's Diary when I sent it to them back in 2004. I was writing Regency romances for them at the time, and Darcy's Diary came out of the blue. Many publishers would have rejected it as it was not what they were expecting, but Hale were always flexible and luckily my editor, Gill Jackson, was a Janeite, so the book was accepted. This was a more adventurous publishing decision than it might seem today, since at that time Austenesque fiction was not the popular genre it is now.

Encouraged by their response, I embarked on further diaries and Hale continued to support the series, bringing out all the books in beautiful hardback editions. They are now read and loved by readers around the world, but I am certain that without Hale it would never have happened.

I am very sorry to see them close, but I want to wish them well and thank them for everything they have done for me and my books over the years. I know that a lot of other people are sorry to see them close, too, so if you have ever been published by Hale, or if you have ever enjoyed reading any of their books, and you would like to add your thanks, then please leave a comment below.

Amanda Grange

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Winter Inheritance - Melinda Hammond sets the scene for a book that is close to her heart (and her home)

The English weather can be so drear at this season it is no wonder everyone wants something to look forward to. Something like Christmas.  However, very often the snowy weather we like to see on our Christmas cards doesn't appear until the spring and this year  the weather so far has been mild, windy and very wet, so I thought I would cheer things up with a little winter magic and some photos I took back in January.

I was reminded of this winter wonderland when I was checking over the proofs of Winter Inheritance, my contribution to the Christmas edition of Regency Quintet, a compilation of stories by myself, Fenella Miller, Elizabeth Bailey Amanda Grange and Monica Fairview.

Winter Inheritance was originally published as The Highclough Lady by Robert Hale Ltd as a hardback, but I have revised it and retitled it for a new readership. Winter Inheritance is set on the Pennines, inspired very much by the area where I live

Living on a hill we have often been snowed in, and on more than one occasion I have had to make the last part of the journey to my home on foot, just as Verity does, so the description of her first approach to Highclough is drawn from my own experiences (although mostly without a handsome hero to help me on my way!)

Here's  a short extract to go with the pictures..... 

Just to set the scene - Rafe Bannerman seeks out governess Verity Shore to inform her she has inherited a property in Yorkshire and he carries her off to her new home. But it is November, and the weather is turning very cold:-

Their stop at Manchester was shortened by reports of bad weather ahead of them and after a hasty lunch they set off again with the coachman casting an anxious glance at the grey clouds gathering overhead. By the time they reached Rochdale the sun had disappeared behind a blanket of grey cloud that had settled over the sky and rested heavily on the surrounding hills. Verity regarded the darkening landscape with foreboding: perhaps it was the grey cloud, but the land looked so much gloomier, even the walls were darker than the whitish-grey stone she had known in Derbyshire. She watched from the shelter of the carriage while Mr Bannerman conferred with the coachman and as he climbed in beside her she gave him an anxious, questioning glance.

'We will press on.' Rafe Bannerman answered her unspoken question. 'There are no reports of snow ahead yet, but I have decided we should take the upland road rather than the valley route through Derringden. The road is steep and a little rough, but it will save us at least two hours' driving. Do not worry, Miss Shore. You must not let the prospect of a little snow daunt you. Besides, it may not come until morning.'

Verity pulled her cloak about her and glanced up at the lowering sky.

'I hope you are right sir.'

As they travelled north the weather grew steadily colder and the first flakes of snow began to fall. Verity watched with growing unease as the road wound its way through a steep-sided valley and the light faded to a gloomy dusk. Soon the coach pulled off the toll road and began a steady climb.

'We are on the direct road to Highclough.' Rafe Bannerman's voice cut through the darkness. 'There is little more than a mile to go now.'

As they left the shelter of the valley the wind began to buffet the carriage, and the snow became finer, until it was hard, icy particles that rattled against the sides of the coach with each new gust of wind. Verity huddled into her cloak, listening to the storm. She tried to peer out of the window, but could see nothing in the near darkness. The road grew steeper and the coach groaned on its back springs as the horses struggled to drag it upwards. To Verity the journey seemed interminable. She had no idea how fast they were travelling but just as she had decided that they must be climbing a mountain rather than a hill, the carriage came to a halt.

'Wait here.' Rafe Bannerman jumped down, slamming the door behind him to keep out the storm. Verity sat alone in the darkness. She could just make out the sound of voices raised against the wind, then the door jerked open and she was obliged to hold her cloak tightly against the sudden icy blast. Mr Bannerman leaned in.

'John Driver says the horses can get the coach no further. The house is less than half a mile from here. Do you think you can walk?'

'Of course.'

'Let me see your shoes.'

She pulled one foot from the snug sheepskin and put it forward for inspection, wrinkling her nose at the well-worn leather.

'One of the advantages of a life of a governess,' she said, a laugh in her voice, 'One's footwear is always serviceable!'

Mr Bannerman helped her out of the carriage, one hand clasping the brim of his hat as he shouted over his shoulder to the coachman.

'Leave it here, no-one is likely to be coming this way tonight. Get the horses to Highclough, then have some of the lads come back with the sledge for the baggage.' He turned to Verity. 'Are you ready?'


She looked down at her feet: the snow was so fine there was very little on the ground, but it was building up at the sides of the road, and she could feel the icy surface beneath her boots. They set off along a rough lane. The light was nearly gone, but she could just make out the high dry-stone walls on each side. The wind swirled about, tugging at Verity's thick cloak. The lane carried on upwards, and as they crested the highest point they were suddenly exposed to the full force of the wind, and Verity gasped as the icy rain hit her cheeks like dozens of tiny blades. She gripped her hood, pulling it tightly around her face and trudged on, her head bent into the wind. The storm howled about her and she found her feet slipping on the uneven surface. Unable to look forward, she kept her eyes on the ground, just visible in the fading light, gritting her teeth against the biting cold and the icy wind that cut through the thin kid gloves, stinging her fingers.

'Here, let me help you.' She felt a strong arm about her shoulders. 'Keep your head down. I'll guide you.'

She found herself clamped firmly against Rafe Bannerman's solid figure and he marched her steadily forward. A few minutes later, the wind dropped and Verity peeped up to see that they had turned onto a sweeping drive and had reached the shelter of a building. She was aware of a large oak door being flung open and she was bundled across the threshold into an echoing stone passage. Breathing heavily, she swayed as she found herself free of the gentleman's reassuring grip. She blinked, dazed by the quiet calm of the entrance hall.

'You are safe now, Miss Shore.' Rafe Bannerman murmured, taking her hand to support her.


The pictures included here will give you some idea of Verity's new home, although extensive tree-planting had made the area much less bleak now. But I can imagine her getting up one morning and seeing a winter moon, just like this one, rising over the hills.

It's the sort of book to enjoy  curled up before a roaring fire!

Happy Reading.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Regency Quintet, Christmas Edition, is out now on Kindle

Friday, November 27, 2015


Hi, Jo Beverley here talking about names.

I recently posted on Facebook asking for suggestions for a first name for my current hero. He's an earl, so I know his title, Lord Kynaston, and because he has a sister I knew his surname. She's Lady Phyllis Delacorte. But first name? It had never come up. However, I'm sure that soon there'll be a scene with Phyllis and I assume she'll use his first name, so I need to know.

I do have a page on my web-site for period names, but I compiled it decades ago, simply taking names as I came across them in primary sources. There are so many more, but it'll give you an idea.

I had so many suggestions! Many were excellent, and some surprised me because to me they didn't seem "heroic" names. It might seem limiting to think that way, but names, and titles, have power in a story and even a simple sentence can be powerfully affected. Consider these.

Rafe entered the room.
Cecil entered the room.

Lord Ravenscar was watching her from across the room.
Lord Puslock was watching her from across the room.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Inspiring Miss Jane Austen - Jane Odiwe

Jane Austen
Someone asked me what had inspired my new book, Jane Austen Lives Again, the other day, and it took me a moment to think about just where the ideas came from and how I ended up writing about my favourite writer in 1925.
Firstly, I love Jane Austen, the person, or the idea of the personality she represents to me. She is wonderful to write as a character because there is an element of mystery about her. For all that we think we know about the woman who penned Pride and Prejudice, there is so much that is uncertain, and even when we are given tantalising clues to pieces of her past, they’re usually snuffed out, to disappear like curling smoke from an extinguished candle flame, whenever we try to get too close. I’ve been very lucky to meet several descendants of Jane’s brothers, and I’ve always hoped I might stumble on some precious nugget of information, a secret never told before. Whilst some have provided me with several intriguing ideas and the occasional unanswered mystery, sadly, the hard evidence for such tantalising tidbits is never really there - though I have often wondered if they’re not spilling all the beans! If I was a non-fiction writer, this might make the job of bringing Jane Austen to life a much harder job, but as a novelist, part of the fun is in being able to use your imagination to make her into a character, whilst trying to remain respectful to her memory, and drawing on the wonderful material we have in the form of her letters and books. Everyone thinks they know Jane Austen - every reader feels she is their special friend, which is partly what makes our greatest novelist a true genius. Her ability to connect with every reader so that they feel it’s a personal experience is part of the wonderful charm of her books. I’ve tried to convey how I feel about her in my own writing, and I hope that readers will like my idea of how I see ‘Jane’.
Lydia, Wickham and Kitty
It goes without saying that her novels are a great inspiration to many people, whether as readers or writers. Her books can be returned to time and again, and every time we read them we find something new to love. Another aspect of Jane’s genius is that we identify with her characters as much today as they did 200 years ago. Everyone knows a couple who seem impossibly matched, like ‘Mr and Mrs Bennet’, we’ve all met a silly ‘Lydia’, or been stung by the barbs of a ‘Caroline Bingley’. We all wish we could go back in time and meet the enigmatic Miss Austen, and have a conversation with her, and this desire of my own has taken me on a journey with my own books. I’ve written a couple of dual time novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth and Project Darcy, where contemporary heroines go back to the 1800s to interact with Jane Austen and other characters inspired by those Jane wrote about in Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. This time, I thought it would be interesting to place Miss Austen in 1925, an era I thought she might enjoy (like me) and I wanted to explore how she would react to a different time, a new and exciting age where women were becoming more independent. Jane still had firm fans in 1925, and her novel, Sanditon was edited and published at the beginning of the year. Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster waxed lyrical on her talents, describing themselves as Janeites, penning articles and poems on their love for her work.
I am a Jane Austenite, and, therefore, slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity—how ill they set on the face, say, of a Stevensonian. But Jane Austen is so different. One's favorite author! One reads and rereads, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, one greets her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers. E. M Forster 1924
Rudyard Kipling wrote The Janeites around this time and Jane's Marriage, a poem which alludes to a mysterious gentleman who loved Jane Austen.

This brings me to another source of inspiration - the wonderful books written by women authors written between the 1920s and 1940s. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson are just three of my favourites - if you haven’t read them you are in for a treat, and if you haven’t time to read them there are very good films of them all to watch. All these authors admired Jane Austen - if they don’t actually mention her by name, it’s easy to see her influence in their writing. Family dynamics are at the heart of the first two books, and I liked the idea of creating a family that didn’t quite sit well together, in true Jane Austen style. There are five girls, all inspired by Jane Austen’s heroines - you might be able to guess which
ones from their names, though they’re not carbon copies. Alice, Mae, Beth, Emily and Cora all have problems to overcome, and whilst some are resistant to Jane’s help, she is determined to do all she can. I loved the idea of placing the Milton girls in a crumbling castle on the edge of the sea in Devon, as part of an eccentric and bohemian family. As Jane ‘teaches’ us a model for good behaviour throughout her books, I wanted my novel to show her doing this as she tries to reform and influence the different characters within the Milton family and beyond.
Every one of the books mentioned above has a fairy tale element in the descriptions of the worlds created or in their happy endings, and I very much wanted to mirror this idea and write a grown-up ‘Cinderella’ story of my own. I will just briefly mention the heroes in my novel - there are several, all inspired by Jane's heroes to some extent or other, and Jane has admirers of her own.
 Finally, I love doing the research for a new novel and Pinterest can be very inspiring for creating mood boards. I had a wonderful time putting this board together
Following on is an excerpt from Jane Austen Lives Again - I do hope you enjoy it. 
A descendant of her Winchester doctor, John Lyford finally perfects the latter’s work on transdifferentiation, though it takes until 1925 to do so, and in accordance with her last wishes and the help of her sister Cassandra, she’s given a new lease on life. She looks and feels about Elizabeth Bennet’s age, but has all the wisdom from her past life. The only problem is that with little money she has to get a job, and so the young doctor manages to place her in a household as a governess, which is not her idea of an exciting prospect. She soon finds out that the family don't really need a governess as such, but they very much need her help. As she adjusts to her new life, Jane’s memories often intrude, and there are flashbacks to the past. In this scene, at a party, modern life threatens to overwhelm her, and she can’t help harking back to her former life, and an old love.

Beyond were French doors leading out onto a terrace, with wonderful views over the valley and steps leading down to a sunken garden. Roses bloomed over an arbour fixed at points along the terrace,
and the scent on the evening air made Jane feel she’d been transported to some foreign clime she’d once read about. There was no one else in sight and leaning on the balustrade she watched the sun lowering in the sky sending blue shadows over the black and white tiles, setting the pots of white lilies aflame. A few Chinese lanterns bobbed in the warm breeze above her head, blushing pink as if lit by glow-worms. It was incredible to think she’d found such a peaceful haven, and though she knew she couldn’t stay there all night, at least it gave her a little respite from all the frenzied activity inside. The music floated out on the scented air, and she could imagine them all kicking up their heels, until there was a pause and tumultuous applause broke out, and a loud voice announced a foxtrot to slow down the pace so they could get their breath back. Jane couldn’t imagine what that dance could be, and couldn’t help picture a sly fox with a waving bushy tail trotting his way down a henhouse full of plump birds. She laughed out loud for it really was a ridiculous picture.
‘Is it a good joke?’ said a voice behind her.
Spinning round she came face to face with Will, the last person she expected to see.
‘I’ve never heard of a foxtrot and I’ve got a wild imagination.’
As soon as the words were out she thought how gauche she must sound.
‘Goodness, you’ve led a more sheltered existence than I thought,’ Will exclaimed. ‘I was just coming to ask you to dance.’
‘I’m not sure that would be possible or appropriate, Mr Milton,’ Jane answered, searching for the right words. ‘I cannot dance, nor do I have any wish to make an exhibition of myself.’
It was an attempt to put him off, and even though she knew the reverse was true, that she loved nothing better than to dance, she’d already decided that to start again by having to learn modern dances to the music that was starting to jangle noisily and persistently in her head, would be impossible. She liked to be the best at everything, to excel at all she endeavoured to try. Failure was not a word she liked or allowed in her vocabulary, and besides all that, the memories of the past were crowding in on her.
She saw a line of eager young bucks, all waiting to take her hand in the dance. As if seeing
Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy
from a distance, a familiar room glowed with candlelight and exquisite chandeliers, as Tom Lefroy took her arm, squeezed her hand, and led her through the intricate patterns, whirling her round in a country dance. The room throbbed with passions unspoken, of bodies meeting, fingers touching, hearts and minds open to tacit thoughts and caresses. And later, stolen kisses and a sweet promise beyond the confines of the house, now blazed across her memory and the gulf of time, as swift and searing as if it had happened yesterday.
‘I don’t believe you,’ Will was saying as Jane jerked back to reality when she heard his insistent voice. ‘You have the definite look of a dancer to me. Come on, let me teach you.’
He came to stand next to her leaning his weight with crossed arms on the balustrade as she did, and Jane hoped he wouldn’t see the tears that sprang to her eyes blurring her vision and thoughts. It was silly to be so stirred up and emotional at thoughts of the past, but she was overwhelmed by a sudden desire for all that she had ever known, and for all those she had loved. She longed to share a conversation with someone who spoke the same language in the cadences and timbre of her youth, and to feel a kinship and connection with every living creature in her own time, sharing an appreciation of what was expected, whilst operating within a familiar system. And although she’d often railed against such conventions, she almost craved such customary restrictions now. Knowing she couldn’t go back made her feel worse, and she had to focus her mind to bring herself back from sudden despair. Blinking back the tears she turned to see Will looking into the distance, and for the first time she thought she saw a look of vulnerability. There was an expression of sadness in his eyes as if he might be far away in his thoughts too.
‘I’ll be a poor pupil, I’m certain,’ she said, finally giving in to his pleading expression. ‘And I’m supposed to be chaperoning your sisters, not trotting about.’
She nearly added, ‘like a fox’, but the uncharitable thought crossed her mind that if anyone were like a fox it was Will with his chestnut brown hair, and she cast herself as a plump hen with ruffled feathers waiting to be snaffled up after one easy pounce.
‘Are you changing your mind?’ he said, turning to face her with a smile that spread to his velvet eyes, sloe black and glittering in the dying light. ‘Have I convinced you to dance with me?’
‘I hardly know,’ she muttered before he caught hold of her, pulling her arm gently towards him until she released her tight grip on the stone rail, and took her hands in his own.

If you could go back in time and meet Jane Austen, what question would you most want to ask her?