Monday, February 23, 2015

Old Junk or Treasure?

Of late I’ve become a bit of an auction “junkie”, haunting our local (very small) auction house whenever they have a sale on.  My family have been fairly tolerant so far of my collecting mania, even putting up with my recent obsession with Foo dogs which now seem to inhabit most rooms in our house.  And they haven’t complained too much about all the other bits and pieces I’ve brought home.  Until yesterday ...

That’s when I arrived home with a chamber pot.

A new flower pot? ...
There were outraged shrieks of “eeuuw!” and “what did you want to buy that for?” and “someone might have used it!”  Well, yes, I expect they did – that is after all the purpose of a chamber pot!  A hundred years ago, I’m sure no one would have reacted that way to anyone buying a potty – it was a necessary item in every home.  I mean, who in their right mind would rather traipse outdoors to a freezing cold privy on a dark winter night instead of using one?

My family’s reaction made me think though about how we view items that were commonplace in the past, but are now used for quite a different purpose – decoration.  Of course I had no intention of placing my chamber pot under the bed, I’d much rather use it as a pot plant container or just as a decorative item on display.  And whatever it was originally for, it’s a beautiful object in itself (besides, it was going cheap at the auction so how could I resist?)

... or a more tradtional use?
As a lover of all things antique, I have lots of these formerly useful things now just sitting around for me to look at – copper bed warmers, kettles and baking tins, an old soda fountain, tins, jars and bottles, an old brazier, washbasins and jugs ...  It gives me pleasure to look at them, so does it matter that their use has changed?  I don’t think so.

Isn’t it great that although these items are now technically obsolete, they fulfil a different function for us?  And it’s horses for courses, as they say – what one person thinks of as junk is a treasure to someone else.  What old items would you love to own?

Me – I have a list so next time there’s an auction, who’s to say what I’ll buy next?

Christina x 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Costume Up Close and Personal

I was lucky enough to be invited to the preview of Hereford Museum's new Exhibition: Shades of White: the changing shape of women. I brought back a vast number of pictures and I'm indulging myself a bit here.  Be warned.  This post will be long!

Nancy Hills, Head of Theatre Costume Design, Caine College, Utah State University has led the project which recreates real costumes from the Hereford and Berrington Hall collections (with the assistance of their costume curator, Althea Mackenzie) All the replicas are in shades of white so that the intricacies of cut and construction can be seen; the workmanship is fantastic.  What's more, visitors can be up close and personal with the replica costumes. It's like being in a sweet shop. Wonderful.

1750 riding habit

The costumes in the exhibition range from 1750 to World War II but there's more than enough early ones to suit fans of Georgian and Regency historicals. There's a replica of this 1750 pink riding habit, for example.

1780 polonaise front
1780 polonaise back
I loved the 1780 polonaise, partly because I used a similar gown for my heroine to wear at the masked ball in His Cavalry Lady and I based it on the very same gown that is now shown as a white replica in this exhibition.

The polonaise is so clever. The elegant ruching is achieved by simple ties underneath and the height can be adjusted to suit the occasion.

1780 caraco replica worn by model

The caraco is a fascinating gown, Lots of gathering in ways that can be altered easily, such as when the wearer is pregnant. You can see some of the detail on the close-up of the back, below. Then just look at the complexity of the pattern cutting. And all to be sewn by hand, as well.

1780 caraco replica, back

1780 caraco pattern pieces
1815 replica

The Regency gowns are much simpler, as we know. On the left is the replica, in white, of a simple gown made of border-print cotton, dating from 1815. When you see it in plain white, there really isn't much to it at all. And the pattern, by contrast with the caraco, looks pretty straightforward.

On the right is a picture of the original, border print cotton of the gown. It must have been a challenge to determine how much cloth to buy. Easy to work out how wide the bottom hem was, but how much do you allow for bodice and sleeves?

Still, the pattern was simple, as you can see below.

1815 border print dress pattern

Things got more complicated later, of course.  While not strictly Regency, I'm including a gown from 1825.  It's a day dress made from cotton gauze and with beautifully ornate sleeves.  When you're up close with the replica, it's easy to see just how much work went into fashioning something like this. And then you look at the picture of the original and see how stunning it was (and is).

1825 day dress replica, sleeve detail

1825 day dress original

Finally, and absolutely not our period at all, I couldn't resist including a few pictures to show the military influences on costume that continued throughout the century.  The last one reminds me very much of the dress uniform worn by the Russian cavalry officers in His Cavalry Lady, complete with fur-edged pelisse over left shoulder. So, even though it's almost a century too late, I have to include it.

1850 day dress replica, military detail

1860 cream silk original with purple military detail

1898 wool and fur suit replica, military detail

Do visit this exhibition if you have a chance.  It's fantastic!  Details below.

 Shades of White: the changing shape of women opens on Valentine's Day and runs until 25 April,  Opening hours 11.00 -- 16.00, Wednesday to Saturday.  Admission Free!

Monday, February 09, 2015

Lord Ilchester's Inheritance

£1.50 on Amazon
Lord Ilchester's Inheritance is now available on Amazon. It is the first of my new Regency titles for 2015 – I am just completing a second in my Pemberley series, The Scandal at Pemberley, which will be coming out in the summer.
Lord Ilchester's Inheritance is a gentle romance, no murder and mayhem or sex in this book. I never know how the book is going to turn out until it is written, but for some reason this one developed into a relationship novel, rather than an action adventure story.
I really enjoyed becoming involved with these two characters and helping them find their way through the emotional tangle of their lives so they could have their happy ever after ending.
I am no longer writing for DC Thomson so in future I don't have to write with their guidelines in mind and always with a  length of 50 000.
 I am trying to decide whether to write shorter books and more of them, or stick to the 50 000.
Do you prefer to pay 50p less and have a shorter book or pay the extra in order to have a full-length book?
My most popular book to date has been a 30K novella, Christmas at Hartford Hall, but it might have been because of the fantastic cover rather than the price and the length. I would be interested to hear your views on this:
Is price more important than then length?
 Fenella J Miller (.com) (UK)

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The Georgian Shell House at Hatfield Forest

A few weeks ago we visited Hatfield Forest, which is a rare survival of a medieval royal hunting forest. I love woods and forests because they so often have a real sense of history; the ancient trees like living sculptures, the sense of timelessness that you get when you walk between them.

Hatfield Forest was in existence at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. Fallow deer were introduced in 1100 from Europe and their descendents still roam the woods today. Rabbits were another “foreign” introduction and a warren was set up in the woods to provide meat and fur.

In the 18th century the forest was sold to the Houblon family, wealthy merchants and financiers from
the City of London. In keeping with the fashions of the day, Jacob Houblon had a part of the forest landscaped. He built the Georgian Shell House and the lake, surrounding it with exotic, non-native trees.

The Shell House is now the exhibition centre for the estate. It was originally built as a picnic house overlooking the lake and was decorated with flints and with British and tropical shells. Most of the shells were from the West Indies as these were used as ballast in the holds of slave ships. The decoration includes a bird sculpted out of oyster shells and blue glass, coral and coloured sands.

At this time there was a craze for collecting and purchasing shells and using them to decorate grottoes and garden features. The building of a picnic house was also a part of the 18th century fashion for elaborate buildings in the landscape whether they were fishing temples, cold plunge baths, pavilions or grand arches. In the summer the Shell House provided a wonderful place for the family to picnic, fish and go boating. Grand parties were also held
there. It offers an insight into the leisured lifestyle of the Georgian upper classes. It is rumoured that the ghost of Laeticia Houblon, who decorated the Shell House, can sometimes be seen in and around the property! It must have taken her months to create such a detailed piece of art.

I actually found the shell decoration rather dark and not particularly appealing although I think that may be because after 250 years it has been very worn by the weather, and the bird motif was a bit sinister to my eyes! So I don't think I will be decorating my house like that any time soon, but as an example of the fashion for shell decorations in the 18th century it was well worth a visit.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Jane Austen and the Napoleonic Wars

I have just read Jenny Uglow’s brilliant new book In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 which demonstrates clearly how the war permeated everything for twenty-two long years and affected everybody – including Jane Austen’s characters  - as the country faced the urgent need for men for the armed forces, military supplies, ships, a modern transport system, efficient banking, and so on.

This post is a refutation of some critics’ assertion that Jane Austen’s novels fail to mention the Napoleonic Wars. In fact, the war is a constant, and important, background to her novels but many modern readers can no longer recognize her references to it.

In These Days: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 by Jenny Uglow

For example, her novels are full of officers serving in the armed forces. Take Persuasion. Apart from the hero Captain Wentworth, three other captains are mentioned, and we meet Admiral Croft as well as two other admirals, one of whom, according to Sir Walter Elliot, has ‘a face the colour of mahogany.’ There is also Mr Elliot’s friend, Colonel Wallis. This number is far in excess of what one would find in 21st century women’s fiction and it echoes the reality of the times.

Contemporary readers would have picked up other information, too. We know that Captain Wentworth is anxious to be back at sea ‘in the year ’06’ after Anne ends their engagement. He is sent to the West Indies – but why? Contemporary readers would have known that the British navy wanted to take the French West Indian island of Santo Domingo. This also gives Captain Wentworth the opportunity to capture French ‘privateers enough to be very entertaining’ - and earn himself a fortune of £25,000 (a captain was entitled to a 25% share of a ship’s value).

The sphinxes commemorate the Battle of Aboukir Bay, 1798, when Nelson destroyed the French navy – and Napoleon’s hopes of conquering Egypt and, eventually, India.

Pride and Prejudice features the militia, a form of National Service which acted as a front line home defence. We can see why it might be attractive to Wickham. A handsome man, looking dashing in his regimentals, can surely find an opportunity for financial advancement – like the rich Miss Mary King. As Mrs Bennet says, ‘There was a time when I liked a red coat very well myself’. Wickham takes full advantage of his red coat.

A captain of the East Kent Buffs prepares for duty.

The fact that the temporary Meryton army camp later moves to Brighton is crucial to the plot. It enables Lydia to go to Brighton with her friend, Harriet, the colonel’s wife, from whence she elopes with Wickham – thus giving Darcy the opportunity to behave as a hero should, and Lizzy to realize how much she loves him.

True to reality, the officers become part of Meryton’s social life: ‘The officers of the ­–shire were in general a very creditable, gentleman-like set.’  We meet Captain Carter; Wickham’s friend, Denny; Colonel Forster; Chamberlayne (who Lydia dresses up in women’s clothes for a joke), amongst others. The militia are in Meryton for six months only but they have an important role to play – and the reason for their presence in Brighton on the south coast, facing a possible French invasion fleet, would have been understood by contemporary readers.

An Officer of the East Kent Buffs, 1815

Mansfield Park demonstrates that Jane Austen also knew exactly how the navy worked; two of her brothers, Frank and Charles, were in the navy and she herself had lived in Portsmouth. But nowadays, the implications of what happens when Fanny arrives in Portsmouth after many years’ absence are easily lost. She arrives with William, hoping for a few days with him before he re-joins his ship, but they are greeted by Fanny’s agitated mother: ‘Have you heard about the Thrush? She is gone out of harbour already, three days before we had any thought of it… And now you must be off to Spithead, too.’

What’s the hurry? And why Spithead? Contemporary readers, of course, would have been aware that Spithead, on the Isle of Wight, provided the best harbourage for ships’ provisioning before setting sail; and that America was eyeing up Canada, a British possession, so an alert navy was vital to protect Britain’s interests.   

Promenade Dress: early 19th century

Mr Price’s coarse speech on the naval arrangements at Spithead and the probable westward destination of the Thrush rings absolutely true. We note that the Price family is intimately involved in the war: Second Lieutenant William and Midshipman Sam Price are sailing, probably to America, on the Thrush; and their brother, Midshipman Richard Price is ‘on board an Indiaman’. Fanny has three brothers at risk.

Jane Austen doesn’t need to explain overtly what’s going on in the Napoleonic Wars. Her first readers would have recognized numerous references to its constant presence. In my view, to accuse her of a narrowness of vision is doing her a grave injustice.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

CATCHING UP WITH OLD FRIENDS - when 5 Romantic Novelists got together......

Isn't it surprising what can develop when friends get together? You would think that five authors of Regency romances would look upon one another as rivals, competing against one another for the reader's attention, but nothing could be further from the truth, at least for the five good friends who have published the Regency Quintet, Valentine Edition.

I have known my fellow authors in the Regency Quintet for many years. We are all members of the Romantic Novelists Association and we got to know one another at various conferences and meetings, back in the days when we were all starry-eyed new authors, learning our craft.  Over the years we have gone our separate ways, but we have all continued to love Regency romances and it now seems quite natural to be working together, each contributing one of our favourite Regencies to this boxed set.

So, I thought it might be a nice idea to bring you up to date with what each of us has been doing recently.

Amanda Grange is working on two new traditional Regency romances tied to the characters in one of her earlier romances. Philip and Madeline, the hero and heroine from The Six-Month Marriage, will make an appearance in both new books. One of the new books is about Philip's sister, Emma, and the other is about his friend, Jack.

Elizabeth Bailey has been putting out old and new Georgian and Regency traditional romances over the last couple of years, and is currently writing the third in her Lady Fan Mystery Series. She is planning more books in this series and a new series of Georgian romances set around convenient and Cinderella bridals.

Wendy Soliman is currently working on the last book in the Ducal Encounters series, which centres around the marital aspirations of the duke himself. She's also to blame for a new series - Pemberley: The Next Generation. As the title implies, it features the Bennet girls' grown children and follows on from her successful Mrs. Darcy Entertains books.

2015 looks as if it will be a busy year for Fenella J Miller, too. She has just finished the final polish for the first of a two part WW2 saga and a new Regency, Lord Ilchester's Inheritance goes up next month. March will see the second of her Pemberley series - A Scandal at Pemberley - which she is writing at the moment.

And finally, there's me!  Writing as Melinda Hammond, I have been adding more of my backlist as e-books, including my Georgian romance, A Lady at Midnight, but more recently I tried something a little different: And The Stars Shine Down is a short story, a hauntingly bitter-sweet romance about a modern day journalist and a WW2 Spitfire pilot. It is a story I have wanted to write for a long time and I may well follow it up one day with a full length novel, but before that I am hoping to e-publish another Georgian romance before the end of the year, and if that wasn't enough, I also have two more Sarah Mallory novels out this year, starting with A Lady for Lord Randall, one of the Brides of Waterloo trilogy which will be published by Harlequin in May.

So you see, we are all busily at work bringing you even more great reads.

I hope you will enjoy Regency Quintet: you may know some of the authors already, but maybe you will discover some new favourites.

Happy reading
Melinda Hammond

And The Stars Shine Down

A Lady at Midnight

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Valentine's Day is on its way!

February is here, and with it the promise of lighter evenings and milder weather (we hope!) Daffodils are in the shops and, best of all, we have Valentine's Day to look forward to!

A group of us here on the blog have teamed up to put together a collection of Regencies on kindle especially for Valentine's Day and we're all very excited about it. I love these kind of collections, they're such a good way of letting readers try new authors without breaking the bank.

There are five books in the collection and, because they're from five different authors, they all offer something slightly different within the Regency genre.

My book is The Silverton Scandal. Like most of my Regencies, it has an adventure as well as a romance. I couldn't resist writing a story about a highwayman, but this is a highwayman with a difference. He has a very special reason for holding up the coach on which Eleanor is travelling, and when she recognises him at their second meeting, his life is in her hands. But Eleanor senses there is more to him than meets the eye and does not divulge his secret - which is lucky, as she soon needs his help when she tries to retrieve her sister's letters from the hands of a blackmailer.

You can buy the collection from Amazon US  and  Amazon UK (as well as all other Amazons) now!

Amanda Grange