Friday, March 27, 2015

A Cornish Maid - inspired by the original version of Poldark.

£0.99/ $0.99
Today I have published my own Cornish romance. My heroine is called Demelza and the story was inspired by the original version of Poldark. This was the book was  published by Musa four years ago.
My Demelza has glorious black hair – unlike the current Demelza who has auburn hair – and my hero, Lucas Fairfield, has fair hair unlike Ross Poldark.
However, I hope he is as gorgeous as Aiden Turner. In my head, when I was the rewriting/editing this book, it was he who I had in mind. Lucas was also a soldier, wears his hair long
and removes his shirt on more than one occasion.
All my previous heroes were loosely based on Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean)– especially the one in my work in progress which features a Bow Street Runner – but from now on the jaw- droppingly attractive Aidan Turner will be my hero of choice.
I know the purists don't like the current version of Poldark, too much galloping around and gratuitous shirt removing, but I'm loving it and wish it could go on for the whole of the summer.

Here is the blurb for A Cornish Maid:

In the small Cornish village of Tregorran, Demelza struggles to keep the family house intact and care for her young brothers and sister after the deaths of their parents. Knowing that she is losing the battle, she agrees to take in a paying guest: handsome Lucas Fairfield. But the growing attraction between the two seems doomed from the start. With Lucas obliged to return to his ancestral manor and Demelza devoted to caring for her siblings and own familial home in Tregorran, Cornwall. Can they ever find happiness together? (.com) (.uk)

Fenella J Miller

Monday, March 23, 2015


I think I’ve mentioned before that I love going to art exhibitions and London is of course the ideal place for that.  Each year the large galleries put on some lovely and varied shows and last week I was lucky enough to see two of them – Pieter Paul Rubens (“Rubens and his Legacy”) at the Royal Academy and John Singer Sargent (“Portraits of Artists andFriends”) at the National Portrait Gallery.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Rubens, a brilliant painter who lived between 1577 – 1640, was a master of portraiture and taught Anthony Van Dyck (my personal favourite, who I think actually surpassed his master).  He also excelled at landscapes, religious paintings and mythological depictions, using colour and sensuality in a way that many artists have tried to copy since.  Mostly though he is associated with the word “rubenesque”, ie he depicted naked women with lots of curves they were not ashamed to show off.  He apparently specialised in painting white skin, using techniques that made it look almost translucent.  The viewer can sometimes see the veins and it’s as though you feel the warmth of the soft flesh of these attractively plump ladies.  Very clever, although personally I preferred his formal portraits where the sitters were clothed (albeit still with a lot of bosom on show!).

However, it’s not the fact that he painted naked ladies, but the shape of the women that most people find fascinating as it’s so different to the current ideals and fashions.  This was a time when plump, rounded shoulders and breasts were the preference and with the rest of their bodies covered up, everything else must have seemed irrelevant.  No obsessions with "abs" here, no worries about cellulite.  That sounds rather liberating, but no doubt the ladies back then had other concerns – were they round enough, were their eyes the right shape and size, their mouths small and perfect, their hair curly and luxurious ...?  Every age has its own restrictions and we are ever slaves to fashion.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
John Singer Sargent’s paintings couldn’t have been more different, although there are definitely similarities as well.  He lived between 1856 – 1925 and in his compositions are found cool, elegant Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th century ladies, still covered up by long dresses, but with a much slimmer silhouette and painfully small waists.  There are still creamy, bare shoulders and arms, but not as round.  The preferred skin tone is translucent white, as before, the busts on display often impressive.  To me though, these ladies have more character somehow, staring defiantly at the viewer.  No large limpid eyes here, more the knowing looks of someone who knows she is attractive.  Or is that just my perception, because they are closer to our own ideals?  They certainly seemed a lot more vibrant, although that could be simply because Sargent was a genius.  (Some of his paintings look so real I expected the sitters to step out of their frames and talk to me any second).

When writing historical fiction it’s often difficult to depict a heroine who is of her time and yet appeals to a modern audience.  We can do it by getting into their mindset and not let them act contrary to the rules and customs of the time, even though we might add a bit more feistiness and wilfulness than would perhaps have been the norm.  And there’s always the tropes of “she was educated by her father because he didn’t have a son” or “she was allowed to sit in on her brother’s lessons with his tutor” to account for her being cleverer than the average lady at the time.  But what about their looks?

I have to admit that I’m in the middle of a story set during the English Civil War (ie. 1640s, so just after Rubens’ lifetime), but I don’t want my heroine to look like Rubens’ perfect woman.  Instead she’s slim, lithe and with the sort of curves we prefer now.  Is this wrong of me?  I don’t know, but I’m sure there must have been women of all shapes and sizes, then as now, and those who worked hard for a living (and life was hard for the majority of them) wouldn’t have had a chance to get plump.  That was for the idle aristocratic ladies whose idea of exercise was to take a slow amble round their magnificent gardens or perhaps play a game of bowls, not exactly taxing.  My heroine, on the other hand, is a lot more active, so I’m sticking with my original description of her.  Though perhaps I’ll add some more lustre to her skin and make her eyes bigger, mouth a perfect cupid’s bow … :-)

What do you think?

Christina x

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Apologies for my absence, I took a break from historical fiction to write the second novella in my contemporary series set in Polvellan, a Cornish village not a million miles from the one where I live.  Writing something completely different in length and genre was exhilarating.  Fortunately it pleased the Boss and I’ve signed a contract to write more. 

Now I’m back in the C19th writing a sequel to ‘The Consul’s Daughter’ which is due out in July, called ‘The Master’s Wife.’ 

Because the first book ended after drama and upheaval with the couple finally recognising their love for each other, the challenge with this new one was to decide when it would begin and what precipitating event would turn their lives upside down.

Once I had chosen both, I still needed something more, something that would broaden and deepen the story.  It came via  one of those wonderful ‘serendipity’ moments.

Thirty-five years ago I attended a seminar by Screenwriting & Story guru, Robert McKee.  It was fascinating, exhausting and packed with useful information.  I made masses of notes and typed them all up when I got home.  But I had three young children and was writing for Mills & Boon where trying to apply what I had learned conflicted with the specific requirements of the genre.  So my notes got put aside. They went missing during a house move.

Then three days ago I received an email notifying me of the latest series of Story Seminars by Robert McKee. One is taking place in London from May 8th -10th.  I’ve shortened the email slightly. It began with:

‘Less than 1% of writers sell their scripts.’   (Shouldn’t that be ‘Fewer’?)
75% of your effort should go into designing the story. Only 1% of writers realise this.
Invest the time. Do the Work. Write the Truth. The Results Will Follow.
Story Seminar Content springs from these premises:
Story is about principles not rules
about archetypes not stereotypes
about eternal, universal forms, not formulas
about thoroughness not shortcuts
about the realities not the mysteries of writing
about mastering the art, not second-guessing the marketplace
about respect, not disdain for the audience
about originality, not chasing trends.
It goes well beyond the essential mechanics of screenwriting, and will elevate your writing from an intellectual exercise to an emotional one; transforming the craft into an art.’

I was seriously tempted.   The cost of the seminar plus rail fare plus at least two nights in London would be eye-wateringly expensive, even so...

Then I remembered that many years ago I bought a book called  ‘45 Master Characters.’  It describes in depth mythic models and shows how you can use and adapt them to create original characters. I read it when I bought it and it has been sitting on my ‘Books on Writing’ shelf ever since. 

I got it down and began reading. It covered much of the ground promised by the Story Seminar. Even better, I didn’t have to travel anywhere.

As I read I had a ‘light-bulb’ moment. Things that had felt stuck suddenly shifted and ideas started flowing. While I scribbled notes, I could feel that lovely bubbling excitement that comes when your gut tells you you’re on the right track.  All because of a marketing email. 
The crocuses?  Simply to celebrate spring. 

Jane Jackson.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pockets and Ridicules

This month we welcome guest blogger Althea Mackenzie. Althea is Curator of Costume at Hereford Museum and Curator of the Wade Costume Collection, National Trust. She has a wealth of knowledge about all those sneaky questions that authors and readers have always wanted to ask about what Georgian and Regency people wore and how they wore it. Today, she's blogging about pockets and reticules or -- to use that lovely word of the period -- ridicules.

Over to Althea:


Our relationship with our bags and the 'essentials' housed within is not dissimilar to the relationship between the 18th century lady and her pocket. The nature of the essentials have changed slightly to include the mobile phone, but Henry Leigh Hunt's description in 1812 has some resonance:

'In one is her handkerchief, and any heavier matter that is not likely to come out with it, such as the change of sixpence. In the other is a miscellaneous assortment, consisting of a pocket-book, a bunch of keys, a needle-case, a spectacle-case, crumbs of biscuit, a nutmeg and grater, a smelling-bottle, and, according to the season, an orange or apple, which after many days she draws out, warm and glossy, to give to some little child that has well behaved itself.'

Frying Sprats with a large pocket
In a period when opportunity for privacy and security of personal property was limited, the pocket was an ideal solution, sitting as it did close to the body under the petticoat and the gown and only accessible through the pocket slits.  However, pockets were not totally secure as was shown by the number of convictions for crime associated with pockets - pockets being targeted by pickpockets or used for transporting stolen goods.

The radical change in fashion that took place at the end of the 18th century/early 19th century has often been associated with the emergence of the reticule. 

Boilly Checkers 1803
Such a revealing silhouette based on classical simplicity with high waistlines and skirts that fell close to the body and legs didn’t lend itself to a bulging pocket and yet so many of the dresses still have pocket slits. In 1809 in ‘Celia in Search of a Husband’ the young girl is asked ‘What is Fashion?  To which the reply is ‘fashion is not to wear pockets’.

A splendid reticule in a 1790s print

The speed to which women could have access to changes in fashion had been revolutionized with the growth of the printed word.  Access to materials was equally revolutionized, as was the emergence of a wage-based population who could shop. Gradually in museum collections we see the representation of a wider slice of society, not just the very high end of fashion but a combination of radical followers of fashion and the more conservative, such as those advised by Theresa Tidy in ‘Eighteen Maxims of Neatness and Order’ who wrote in 1819:

'Never sally forth from your own room in the morning without that old-fashioned article of dress - a pocket. Discard forever that modern invention called a ridicule.'

It looks as if dresses were made with pocket slits regardless of whether the individual continued to wear pockets or carried the new-fangled reticule, or indispensable, for those essential items.

A beautifully embroidered pocket

Thank you, Althea. Fascinating stuff. I expect you'll get lots of comments and questions from our blog visitors.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Plus ca change...

I watched the commemoration service for the Afghanistan conflict today. A moving expression of a nation’s thanks to the soldiers who fought there. Some lost their lives, others came back damaged in mind and spirit.
Added to the recent death of a friend’s son fighting the forces of IS, and my thoughts are for the military men and women who work so hard.
My husband is from a military and navy family, with a tradition of enlisting. For them, it was a matter of “shut up and get on with it.” They have fought in all of the wars of the twentieth century.
I’m currently working on a book about the heroes of Waterloo, and these events have helped me to understand. I’m writing two novellas. One is about a civilian surgeon working after the battle, and the other is about a soldier who comes back from the battle damaged in spirit.
While PTSD is a fairly recent concern, it affected soldiers for centuries. It just wasn’t acknowledged. Until so many soldiers were affected by “shell shock” in World War One, and studies by Freud, Jung and others concentrated on the illnesses of the mind, it was considered of no importance. Men were sent back into war mentally unable to cope with it. On others it had a cumulative effect. Tracing back into history, the effects of this terrible, insidious illness are easy to track in some people, especially when a researcher knows what she’s looking for.
Recent events have indeed concentrated the mind wonderfully. A writer is a sponge, absorbing what happens around her and then pouring it out in a different form. In my research into the results and consequences of the Napoleonic Campaign, the evidence is there. Private journals and accounts of suicides point to people who found the strain of war too much to cope with. And yet they were told they would get over it, or even to “pull yourself together, man!”
This more enlightened age is currently seeing brutalities and horrors first hand. It’s reported on the news and it haunts us for a long time afterwards. Seeing it like that, there have been reports of people so badly affected that it has given them nightmares. A form of PTSD? Perhaps.
At the time of Waterloo, news travelled much slower. One of the last great conflicts before photography delivered the news to people’s doorsteps with visceral reality, it nevertheless affected the population deeply. The influx of unemployed soldiers and the agricultural depression led to another crisis. The ordinary person could retain a romantic image of war until they had personal experience of it, and then it was forced upon them.
But the difference in the effects of war, then and now? Not so much.