Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Waltz -- what was it really?

Waltzing is a thorny subject in historical romance, because it's often not what people think it was. I was startled in the new BBC War and Peace to see people whirling around in the Viennese Waltz.

There's a picture here.

 I had to check the text, where I found that was what Tolstoy had written -- but he was writing the book in the 1860s and obviously hadn't done his research!

On the other hand, it isn't clear exactly what the waltz was in the early decades of the 19th century.  Most references make it clear that it was like a regular line dance of the time but with a section in which the couple turned together, in one another's arms. It also kept the couple together throughout, which was different to the usual country dance in which the dancers moved among others.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

An Interview with Miss Jane Austen, Author, by Monica Fairview

Jane Austen is known for her caustic and irreverent wit. I thought it might be fun to highlight some of her most famous statements by framing them in a particular way.

So today, as a special guest, I have Miss Jane Austen, who has kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about romance, her view of marriage and her writings, using her own words. I hope you will welcome her warmly.

So many people have come to love and admire Mr. Darcy, your creation. What do you think is the main attribute of the romantic hero?
There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.

In your opinion, what is the best way to win a gentleman’s heart?
In nine cases out of ten, a woman had better show more affection than she feels.

What about all the enhancements a young lady has at her disposal? All the fine Regency gowns we love so much?
It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone.

Elizabeth Bennet’s lively manners and intelligence are an important aspect of why Mr. Darcy loves her. Do you think this is true generally in romance?
A woman, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. However, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance. A good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man.

In Pride and Prejudice, you write about failed proposals. What do you think is the essence of a successful proposal?
Is not general incivility the very essence of love?

But Elizabeth accuses Mr. Darcy of being uncivil, yet he fails in his proposal.
Angry people are not always wise. Besides, he surprises her. Surprises are foolish things. The pleasure is not enhanced, and the inconvenience is often considerable.

You are fond of portraying selfish, self-centred people in your novels. Take Mary Elliott in Persuasion, Lady Catherine and Wickham in Pride and Prejudice, Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey and many others. Yet even if they’re villains, you never condemn them fully. Why is that?
Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.

Some would even go so far as to say you favour your villains over your heroes and heroines. Would you agree that is the case?
Very possibly. I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal. Besides, pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.

One thing that puzzles me about your novels is how many ineffective clergymen there are in them. Even the hero of Mansfield Park Edmund Bertram succumbs easily to temptation. Why is this the case?
It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.

If you will permit me, Miss Austen, I would like to ask a question of a personal nature. Have you ever been in love yourself?
No. The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love.

Do you think marriage is an important part of a lady’s identity?
It depends. It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman, with a very narrow income, must be a ridiculous, disagreeable old maid! -- the proper sport of boys and girls -- but a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. 

What do you think is the foundation of a good marriage?
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.

Do you believe in marrying your soulmate?
There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry.

But you do have some happy relationships in your novel -- Darcy and Elizabeth, for example. What do you think is the reason for the success of their relationship?
A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

Finally, Miss Austen, what do you think of the Romance genre?
I could not sit down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.

Thank you, Miss Austen, for your timeless words.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


  After a rather wet and very windy week in Devon for New Year, as we were driving back home, I was very tempted by a brief stop along the way. I always try to take the opportunity of visiting National Trust places that are too far for a day trip, and it was a bit of a disappointment when I discovered that all those within driving distance of our holiday cottage were either closed for the winter, or it was only the park and the cafĂ© that was open. Tea and scones are a nice way to finish a long walk in the woods, but I was rather hoping for something more. Still, tea and scones was what we got at Tyntesfield too, because although the house was open for a few hours, we arrived there rather too late to get in. So it will have to be left for another time, and all I got was a tantalising glimpse of the lavish exterior – that, and an equally tantalising guide book.

The house, it seems, was built on an immense fortune made from guano (dried bird droppings). Not the most appealing or fashionable of commodities, but an excellent fertiliser, of great use in revolutionising large- and small-scale Victorian agriculture. The Gibbs family built their fortunes on overseas trade, but the business expanded dramatically after 1842, when they begun to import guano from Peru, so much so that in the mid-1800s William Gibbs became the richest commoner in England. He bought the Tyntesfield estate, enlarged it with the purchase of several adjacent ones, and in 1863 commissioned Bristol architect John Norton to remodel and enlarge the Georgian mansion that came with the estate and turn it into a country house which, according to Mark Girouard, most richly represented the Victorian age.

A committed Christian, William Gibbs did not merely work to enhance his fortune and improve the family home, but also funded churches and charitable works. After his death, his wife Blanche continued to fund many scholarships and community buildings, whilst his eldest son built the Home farm, managed the estate and, when he inherited the house after his mother’s death, he altered and modernised it, using the latest technology, including electricity. Each on the following generations left their mark on Tyntesfield, but the changes were sensitively made, by adding to the work of the predecessors, rather than undoing it. Thus, when the house came to the National Trust in 2002, most of the contents of the house, Chapel, servants’ quarters had survived largely intact, as did the gardens, home farm, woods and farmland, thus giving an exciting glimpse into the workings of the Victorian and Edwardian country house, as well as its decline.

Calke Abbey
The last Gibbs to live at Tyntesfield – Richard, 2nd Lord Wraxall – never married. He lived alone, in fewer and fewer rooms, until his sudden death in 2001. 

His approach, however, was very different to that of the last owners of Calke Abbey in Derbyshire – the ultimate embodiment of the declining country house. At Calke, the owners (dedicated collectors for many generations) filled unused rooms to capacity with the items they had collected over the years, then closed the doors and proceeded to fill another room, so that the National Trust found a veritable Aladdin’s cave when Calke Abbey was entrusted to their care. By contrast, Lord Wraxall ensured the upkeep of the gardens, kitchen garden and the immediately surrounding land and, although the reception rooms were mostly shuttered and closed up, they were kept well-ordered.

I could only learn as much from the guide-book – I have yet to step over Tyntesfield’s threshold myself. But it sounds like a fascinating treasure trove, worthy of further exploration. Hopefully I might be able to explore it in the spring, and also see the gardens in full glory. There’s a Rose Garden, a Rock Garden, the Jubilee Garden, Lady Wraxall’s Garden, and a kitchen garden and walled garden too. The place was a delight even in the dead of winter. In full bloom it must be pure heaven and, although I am a Georgian at heart rather than a Victorian, I can’t wait to go back again!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

War Chest

I decided to write a story about Mars, god of war, set in 18th century Britain. Then I decided to add a Jane Eyre vibe, and make the heroine a "poor, overlooked" governess. What was I thinking?
Well, the result is out this week and it worked much better than I deserved. Sometimes I get these ideas, and mostly they're the stuff of nightmares, but this one just sailed along. The mythological aspects helped me with the motivations for both characters. Myth just works so well in an 18th century concept.

Make love not war? Try telling that to the god of war!
Bearing little resemblance to her beautiful sister Rhea made it easy for Ruth to secure the job of governess to the Duke of Lyndhurst’s wards. The babies are Rhea’s. Rhea is dead. And Ruth’s suspicions are aimed squarely at the powerful, magnificent, brooding duke.
At the very least, she means to ensure her sister’s twins are raised properly. A task she suspects is beyond the duke, who wanders away at night, comes to dinner disheveled, and stirs desires she’s never felt before.
Marcus isn’t just the Duke of Lyndhurst. He is Mars, god of war, and his nightly dinners with Ruth—during which he allows her to ask him one question—are his only respite from his desperate struggle with the Titans.
Little does the drably dressed, socially inept woman realize she is a constant temptation to him—and he is losing the battle to resist. But if he allows her to break the chains around his heart, their love will make her a target in a fight to the death.
Product Warnings
Beware of tall, dark men who roam houses at night. Don’t, whatever you do, stop to kiss them.

An Excerpt from War Chest!
A door opened. Riveted, Marcus watched the sliver of light glimmering from a single candle. He didn’t need to see her to know it was her. From the minute she had eliminated the barriers between them, he’d known.
Her shocked gasp rang around the space, but she did not scream, nor did she retreat. She stood, the candle casting a golden glow on her face, making her eyes sparkle in the dark. She said nothing. Her hair fell over one shoulder, fastened into one long, neat, plait. He could use that to bind her to him, to hold her in place while he kissed her senseless. She wore a plain dark wool gown, hastily pulled on so her pure white night rail peeped through the join in the middle.
He stayed where he was, ignoring the urge to take the three strides that lay between them. “I told you,” he said.
“You did,” she replied.
He smiled. “Do I not daunt you? Terrify you?”
“No, sir, you do not. I thought I heard something.”
When he noticed she kept her gaze firmly on his face, his smile broadened. It was so like her, to make the situation more bearable. “I will not apologize for appearing before you in this way.”
“Because it is your house and I am your servant?” She took a step then, just one, half the length of one of his. It demonstrated intent. Her chin lifted, a sure sign she was firming her jaw and forcing courage. He would have teased her just to see that telltale movement.
He already gave her more leeway than he usually did to anyone, but his refusal to read her mind, to discover what he wanted to know for himself had become more than a game. The question a day was keeping him going. He looked forward to it. “It occurs to me I have not yet asked you a question today, Ruth. Are you ready?”
Her eyes widened slightly, then she blinked. “Yes, sir.”
“Am I the first naked man you’ve seen?”
To his surprise she gave a sharp bark of laughter before smothering the sound with her free hand. She shook her head before she lowered her hand. “Sir, I’m a country girl. No, you are not. I have seen men work the fields naked, or as good as naked. Men bathing in the stream in summer. I never stopped to look.” She paused, and her eyes danced. “I have never seen a man worth wasting time watching.”
“Indeed.” He enjoyed her joke. “You are indeed a remarkable woman, Ruth. A remarkable virgin?”
“Sir, you go too far! I told you I am a respectable woman, and unmarried. I am not a widow, so I that leaves one thing, does it not?”
He wanted to touch her so badly, but perversely he kept away. What he was doing was like taming a wild creature, luring it to his hand. If he touched her, she would bolt, and he didn’t want that to happen. The magic had hit him full-square, the beast inside him soothed.
More than soothed. If she looked down, she would discover how much. However, she kept her gaze firmly on the top half of his body. He could feel it like a touch. More than anything he wanted her to touch him, but if she did, he would most likely lose his mind.
No, he would not do that. Not with her. That was for spells and magic, and the things that belonged in a different part of his world. Here there was only human comfort and understanding.
“So you are a virgin.” The beast in him, the part of him that belonged to the god stretched out, put protective arms around her. Being the god of war had more than one aspect, and his protective instincts were strong. He wanted to take care of her. He wanted to own her. While he knew that was wrong, denying his urges would lead to problems for both of them.
The candle flickered. “Is that so surprising?” she said.
“No. But it is a shame.”
“The world does not run on intimate relations.”
“If it does not, then there would be nobody in it to continue.” He needed to say that, but he did not understand his urge to continue to needle her. Perhaps to make her understand herself more. He saw a great deal of courage and fortitude in Ruth, but he doubted she saw it for herself. He wanted her to become everything she could be.
No more. Abruptly, he stepped back. He had pushed his will to its furthest extent.
“Good night, Miss Carter. I believe I heard a movement from the nursery.”
He walked away. He would do nothing about his erection. It served him right for teasing her.
God in heaven, he wanted her.

Monday, January 11, 2016



This month’s blog is going to be a shameless piece of advertising for my new book 'Dragonsheart' out this month. I originally published it with Robert Hale Ltd back in 2006. 
When Isabella Wyndham-Brown returns to Edwardian England to celebrate reaching her twenty-first birthday, she is looking forward to becoming an adult away from the constraints of her well-meaning but interfering aunts and uncles. But events conspire against her: she learns that she cannot take control of her fortune until she is twenty-five and then finds disturbing evidence that her father had a mistress.

Nevertheless there are compensations, including meeting her handsome, but mysterious French cousin, Laurent, and being reunited with private detective Peter Bennett, who saved her life in Egypt. She is irresistibly drawn to both, but before she can get to know either, she discovers that her father may have found the family treasure, the long lost Dragonsheart diamond. And then her problems really begin...

This is a continuation of the characters I originally created for ‘The Scarlet Queen’. Isabella interested me the moment she appeared on the page, but by the time I’d finished ‘Dragonsheart’ she’d got a whole new identity. She starts off as a respectable upper middle-class girl with lots of money and not much in the way of a sense of responsibility and I got a bit bored with her, so she finds out half way through the novel that her father wasn’t quite the charming, harmless rogue that family history paints. Meeting her new French cousin signals the beginning of a new stage in her life and by the end of the novel Bella’s life is set to change dramatically. 
 I also got the chance to invent a French hero – having been a Francophile all my life, it was great to let my imagination run a bit wild. He also has secrets that don’t coincide with his respectable upbringing. In fact I got so fond of Laurent that he’s ended up one of the main characters in the third novel that I am writing at the moment, which is based on these characters. I’m hoping it will be finished by the autumn.  

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’ and her historical romances, ‘The Scarlet Queen’ and ‘Dragonsheart’ are available from Amazon and all good e-book stores.Follow her on twitter @jacquiefw1 and on her website www.jacquelinefarrell.co.uk

Saturday, January 09, 2016

New Year -New Series - New Title

I've always planned my writing schedule well in advance of the New Year – and 2016 is no exception. If I know what I want to accomplish then it's much easier to organise my writing life.
This year sees the start of a six books series about the Duke of Silchester and his five siblings. The first book – The Duke's Alliance, A Suitable Bride will be published on 15th January and the second follows in the summer.
Here is the opening scene in which all the family is introduced.

Silchester Court

Beaumont Edward Peregrine Sheldon, seventh Duke of Silchester, had known from his birth that he would one day take over the position of head of the family, so becoming a duke was not a shock to him. However, finding the family coffers almost empty was another matter entirely.
 His father had been in his fifties and one might have expected him to live for another twenty years at least, but he’d taken a tumble down the stairs when in his cups and broken his neck. The drinking had become an issue since Mama had died from the influenza five years ago and it was a miracle the duke hadn’t met a similar end before this.
Beau shuffled the pile of papers in front of him and put them down with a sigh. His siblings would be horrified when he told them the parlous state of the Silchester finances. He couldn’t put it off any longer – they would be together in the butterfly drawing room, so-called because of the hand-painted wallpaper, and he had no option but to give them the bad news.
There was no need for him to take the documents with him, the miserable contents were etched on his brain. He strode from the study, down the long corridor that bisected the house, and headed for the chamber in which his family were waiting. Bennett, who had now become heir to the dukedom, would be sitting with the twins, Aubrey and Peregrine. His sisters, Madeline and Giselle would no doubt be perusing the latest fashion plates from London.
There were no footmen lurking about ready to open and close doors at Silchester as he preferred to stand on as little ceremony as possible when only the family was in residence. He stopped in the doorway and surveyed the room.
Bennett, at eight and twenty, was two years his junior. His brother was staring morosely out of the window no doubt regretting that he couldn’t return to his regiment. They looked around, but none of them smiled. Despite his decline into a drunk they had been fond of Papa and his loss was still deeply felt.
‘I’ve had time to go through the documents that arrived from London yesterday. I wish to tell you what I discovered.’
The girls put down their journals, the twins put down their cards and Bennett turned and strolled over to join the group in front of the fire. ‘Well, tell us the worst. From your expression I gather the news isn’t good.’
‘Bennett, your assessment is correct. The estates are returning sufficient to keep Silchester Court running smoothly, however, unless we get a large input of cash from somewhere I’ll not be able to open the London house for the Season next year.’
‘The anniversary of our father’s death is not until December – we can’t come out of mourning until then anyway,’ Madeline said. ‘I’m in no hurry to be paraded like a horse in front of suitable husbands. What about you Giselle?’
The younger girl smiled. ‘I prefer to be in the country as you know, so the longer it is to my debut the happier I shall be.’
Bennett laughed. ‘There you are, Beau, nobody wants to go to London. As for a large injection of cash, I can think of only one way that would be acceptable.’
His brother had their full attention now. ‘Well, enlighten us,’ Peregrine said whilst attempting to take a surreptitious look at his brother’s hand. Without looking in his direction Aubrey snatched his cards away.
‘I shall find myself an heiress – one of us must become leg-shackled and start filling their nursery. As I’ve been obliged to resign my commission, I’ll be the one to sacrifice himself. I’m sure there are plenty of debutantes who would be delighted to marry into such an illustrious family.’
‘A noble thought, brother, but not necessary. Mama was most insistent that we all married for love, that duty must come second.’
‘You’re practically in your dotage, Beau, and have still not met the girl of your dreams – neither have Perry, Aubrey or I. Devil take it, man, you’re one and thirty next anniversary and most men in your position would already have an heir or two to secure the succession.’ Bennett looked at each one of them in turn before continuing. ‘Therefore, I’ll bite the bullet for you. There’s no need to open Silchester House as I’ll take lodgings in Albemarle Street.’
There was nothing any of them could say to dissuade him from his course. Beau came up with an alternative solution to his brother attending the London season on his own.
‘I shall host a house party this summer. I’m sure between us we can come up with a dozen or so families with eligible daughters and we shall invite them all here. It will be perfectly acceptable to entertain at home so don’t raise your eyebrows at me, Madeline.’
‘I shall bow to your superior knowledge, sir, but whatever anyone else does, I shall not go into colours but wear lavender and lilac.’
Giselle giggled. ‘You only want to do that so you can order a new wardrobe, I’m quite happy to continue to wear whatever my maid puts out for me each day. I require no new clothes.’
He left them amiably bickering and drew Bennett to one side where they could speak without being overheard. ‘I’m not happy with your decision, but accept I cannot change your mind. However, you must give me your word you’ll not offer for a young lady who will bore you within a month. You are a military man, used to giving orders and making life and death decisions…’
‘You’re telling me something I already know – what is this to do with finding myself a suitable bride?’
‘If you must marry then you have to select an intelligent girl, someone who can be your companion, share your interests.’
‘If you can find me a young lady who loves to ride, prefers to be outside and has no wish to attend balls and parties and also has a magnificent dowry – then I’ll marry her immediately.’
‘She must also have an impeccable pedigree and not be bracket-faced.’
His brother smiled. ‘I shall go at once to the study and draw up my list of requirements. I’m sure your man of affairs will be able to root out all the girls on the market this season.’
Madeline strolled over to join them and overheard this last remark. ‘There’s one snag to your brilliant scheme, brothers, the most eligible debutantes will already be spoken for and those that are left will not be diamonds of the first water.’

Bennett shrugged. ‘Even better, those young ladies who have been overlooked will be all the more eager to accept an offer from me. My estate brings in more than sufficient revenue to provide for a wife and family. I don’t consider myself a wealthy man, but my income combined with my title should be enough to find me what I want.’

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Sands of Time

Amongst the castles, gardens and other historic sites that make up the tourist attractions of Great Britain there lie other quirky and eccentric historical stories that also contribute to our heritage. One of these is the Queen’s guide to the Sands.

The Queen’s Guide to the Sands is a very romantic title for a very practical job.   The post of “Royal Guide to the Sands” has existed since the 1500s with the brief of guiding travellers safely across the desolate expanse of Morecambe Bay, 120 square miles of sand on the north west coast of England that contains dykes, a river, quicksands and dangerous tides that are said to come in “as fast as a horse can run.” To the north of the bay lie the mountains of the Lake District, cutting off the coastal land and making this one of the most isolated spots in England.  Morecambe Bay apparently first got its name in 1771 when the historian John Whitaker suggested that it was a tidal flat described by the Greek geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD.

Prior to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the job of guide had been done by the monks of the nearby Cartmel Priory. The priory was founded in 1190 and it’s original gatehouse dating from 1330 still stands. After the Dissolution, however, there was no one to guide travellers over the four mile crossing and so local villagers petitioned King Henry VIII for help and the post of Royal Guide was created. Despite this, the dangers of the bay are legendary. In 1725 the Rev John Lucas wrote of a sandbank collapsing to reveal “the corpse of a man dressed in clothes from an earlier age, still clutching his whip in his hand.”

There have been 25 Royal Guides since the post was invented and the job comes with a cottage, Guides Farm, and a salary of £15 per annum which is paid by Lord Cavendish of Holker Hall. The Hall is open to the public to visit, as is Cartmel Priory.

Royal Guides have used the same method since the 1700s, cutting laurel branches to mark a route for safe passage across the sands. A painting by Turner of cockle pickers on the sands shows the use of laurel stakes back in the 18th century. Before the coming of the railway in the 1860s the sands were a major transport route with coaches and horses sometimes racing the tide. These days Cedric Robinson, the current Queen’s Guide, takes groups of walkers across the sands, many of whom do the four mile walk to raise funds for charity. It's amazing to think that a role that began centuries ago still has a place in the modern age of high speed transport but if you are looking for history and a slower crossing of the sands you can still engage the Queen's Guide to take you across.

Picture credits:The Tate Gallery and geograph.org.uk.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The 1822 Herb Garret: St Thomas’s Hospital, London

Recently, I visited the 1822 Herb Garret of St Thomas’s Hospital near London Bridge, founded in 1552 after the Reformation by King Henry VIII. (It had once been part of an Augustine Monastery.) As I climbed up the steep spiral staircase and ducked my head to avoid a low door frame, I found myself inside a large attic. My first thought was: this is a time warp! I was inside a vast wooden structure of roof timbers, rafters and beams, with a plain wooden floor, and crowded wooden shelves contained boxes, jars, bottles and a medieval alembic. Bunches of dried poppies, lavender and meadowsweet hung everywhere. The very air smelt herby. This is how it must have looked and smelt in 1822! And for us Regency Novelists, it was almost exactly in period. So I thought you might like to hear about it.


Dried opium poppies hanging from rafters

The Herb Garret was where the hospital’s herbs were carefully dried, turned into tinctures, pills, etc. and stored. Up here they would be less vulnerable to vermin, and the huge timbers would help to absorb extra moisture and stabilise the temperature.


The plant collection was wide-ranging; for example, there were boxes of willow bark, cinnamon and ginger root, as well as numerous seeds, leaves and flowers. 70% of modern medicine still comes from plants, and knowledge of their medicinal properties goes back hundreds of years.



Plants could be prepared as infusions, teas, tisanes, decoctions, tinctures and syrups, depending on what was needed. Tinctures, for example, used alcohol, vinegar or glycerine as solvents. The chosen herb was finely ground and added to 40% proof alcohol, say, and carefully shaken every day for two weeks. The liquid was then decanted, wrung out in a muslin cloth and stored in a dark bottle.


Apothecary at work on preparing a poultice

We were shown how to make a poultice to draw out infection. (Georgette Heyer fans will have come across poultices being used to excellent effect on horses in Sylvester and The Quiet Gentleman, for example.) Here’s one recipe. Take a measure of linseeds and put them in a bowl and add boiling water – leaving plenty of space for the linseeds to swell.. After about twenty minutes, the linseeds will have absorbed all the water and the mixture will now be the texture of thick porridge.

Jug and bandage-roller
You then spread the mixture onto parchment, chamois leather or paper – whatever comes to hand, really - and bandage it onto the afflicted place. As the poultice cools and dries, it will draw out the infection. It is messy and time-consuming but it works.


Pill-making gadget

We were also shown how to make pills, another time-consuming job. Even though there was a gadget to cut the pills to the right size, they still had to be rolled into balls individually and sprinkled with talcum powder to stop them sticking together. If they tasted particularly disgusting, they would be dusted with icing sugar (which naturally cost more). An apothecary could get through 10,000 pills a week – and usually it was the wretched apothecary apprentice whose job it was to make them. An apprenticeship lasted seven years – and it swiftly became obvious that there was an awful lot to learn.

Plague mask

The Herb Garret does not pull its punches about how disease used to be treated. There was also a leech jar on display and a plague mask!

Leech jar

It is all fascinating but I came out very relieved that I live in the 21st century.

A happy New Year to you all.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Sunday, January 03, 2016


How many of us have started the new year with resolutions, to eat better, exercise more, write that book?

Well, for those of you who have a story to tell but haven't yet got around to starting it, here's my advice:
 Don't get it right, get it written.

Once your story is out of your head, on paper or on the computer, you can edit and polish it into a work of art. You will be able to see whether it is long enough (or too long), and where it has flaws or weaknesses that need to be addressed, but you can't do any of that while it is floating around inside your head.

One of my favourite books began with just a nebulous idea for writing several romances set in two worlds, almost a thousand years apart. I wanted to weave together the story of Hugo the Crusader, longing to be remembered, and the modern day villagers of Moreton in Fleetwood: there's Deborah, unsure of her heart, and the widow Anne, searching for the truth about the old parish church. This was quite a departure from my romances et in the Regency period and meant I had to read up on a lot of things, including early English history, old churches, the crusades and the Holy Land. Any one of those subjects could take a lifetime of research, but I had to restrict myself to reading enough to give me facts to provide the background for my story and a flavour of the period. It takes discipline not to get so sucked into the research that you never get your book written, so I needed to be firm with yourself – after all I am a story teller, not a historian. And thus was born Casting Samson, which has one of my all-time favourite first lines.

 “What we need,” Miss Babbacombe said, “is a male stripper.”

 So Happy New Y ear to you, and I hope 2016 is the year you actually get that book written.


Melinda Hammond.

Casting Samson is published by Carina Press
and is available from their website or
from Amazon and all good online bookshops.