Sunday, July 17, 2016

What Are Young Men to Rocks and Mountains?

I fell in love with the Lake District a long time ago, and the fact that it's mentioned in 'Pride and Prejudice' my favourite story of all times, might have had something to do with it, even though, thank goodness, Elizabeth never made it to the Lakes and stopped in Derbyshire instead.

'What are men to rocks and mountains?'
she rhetorically asks her aunt in a moment of frustration with Mr Bingley, Mr Collins, with Mr Wickham a little (she hadn't heard the truth about him at that point) and great deal with Mr Darcy (ditto).

Elizabeth's frustrations aside, she might have had a point. The sights are astounding!

Just a few hundred yards from where the above picture was taken, there is an old inn. 

Apparently, there has always been an inn here from 1496 onwards, so when Mr and Mrs Darcy went to the Lake District at some point or other after their marriage – as they must have done, to make up for the trip that never happened – they might have stopped here, at Kirkstone Pass Inn. 

Or maybe they stopped here, even though it’s not on the beaten track, and it’s unlikely that they would have gone mountaineering on the nearby Crinkle Crags, no matter how much Elizabeth might have loved the wide open spaces! Still, it’s a lovely place, some 300 years old and converted from a dairy, the proprietor said.

The 'Rules of the Inn' are worth a read as well. There are fourteen altogether, but here are a few:

No. 4: Only coins of the realm may be tendered for the purchase of liquor. Cheques or notes of hand will not be accepted from those below the rank of Royal Duke. (So even Darcy would have had to pay hard cash!)

No 8: The following penalties may be invoked for swearing: an oath 1d, a curse 3d, a blasphemy 6d, it being for none but the proprietor to categorise.

No. 10: There may be no dicing, whether the die be fair or loaded.

No. 13: No spirituous liquors shall be served for the consumption by dogs, except before fights.

And lastly, No. 14: Seamen and travellers are invited to be moderate in the telling of tall stories, lest the credulity of the company be strained, and the King’s peace threatened.

So I suppose that with all the travellers, the dog-fighting, gambling and brawling, this might have been a bit below par for the Darcys – but wherever they might have stopped, I hope they enjoyed their trip, and were delighted with the scenery, as well as with each other!

I only wish I could follow them to Pemberley!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Strange times!

While I’ve been wallowing in the mid-eighteenth century, we’ve been experiencing some strange times in the UK. We had a referendum, then the Prime Minister resigned, and so did the favourite to take his place.
Changes of regime are never straightforward. We wait on events. We certainly live in interesting times!
And yet, someone looking back at this time and whatever happens next will see the events as inevitable. Just as we think of George III following George II to the throne. If you read the history books, they say that Culloden was the end of the Jacobite threat.
But it wasn’t.
Several events occurred to make the 1750’s a time of uncertainty, of shifting opinions and events. There are so many “what if”s and turning points in the decade that I’m constantly surprised that more authors haven’t grabbed the opportunities and run with them.
Diana Gabaldon, for sure, took the Jacobite cause and looked at it anew. But she examined it from the point of view of the hapless Scots. There are other ramifications that have been obscured only by the passage of time, but once they were raw and new.
In 1751, the Prince of Wales died. Frederick was a popular prince, even though he didn’t get along with his father and had a court separate from him. Nevertheless, he was the King’s successor. We could have had a King Frederick! Frederick left a young family, all healthy, but none of them were out of the shcoolroom. The oldest, George, was the new Prince of Wales, but he was only thirteen when his father died.
The Princess of Wales, Augusta, was particularly close to Prince George’s tutor, John Stuart, the Earl of Bute. Of course, Bute was more of an advisor than a hands-on tutor, but it meant he saw the prince a great deal, and became very important in his life, just as Lord Mountbatten did to Prince Charles. However, it was also rumoured that Bute was the lover of Princess Augusta. Bute was not popular.
Parliament was settled until 1754, when the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham-Holles, died. His brother, the Duke of Newcastle, took over, but it soon became obvious that he wasn’t up to the job, and a change of political alliances was going to rock the House of Commons.
King George was in frail health during the 1750’s. He died in 1761, long enough for Prince George to attain his majority, but it was a close run thing.
If the old king had died before his grandson had come of age, George III would have had to have a Regent. There could have been a revolution.
Times of uncertainty make a country vulnerable. And so, into that potential perfect storm, came the Stuarts in exile.
The Young Pretender visited London in 1751 and converted to Protestantism. If the opportunity arose, he wasn’t going to let religion get in the way of his succession. He talked with several important people while he was there, and he could have returned throughout the decade. When he came to London, the government kept an eye on him, but preferred not to arrest him and make a martyr of him. Either that, or Charles came under an amnesty, but if there was one, it hasn’t come to light. He could have returned, but there is no evidence either way that he did so.
However, Charles had become a disillusioned drunk who refused to marry and sire children who would have been a threat to the throne. He was living with a woman who he beat regularly, and who bore him a daughter. His own folly disbarred him this time, and as the decade wore on, the establishment settled into a new pattern. The rise of the brilliant politicians Fox and Pitt, and the onset of the Seven Years’ War moved Britain into a new process, and Prince George grew older.
But for a few years, anything could have happened. And that is what authors rely on for their stories. At least this one does.
I’ve been commissioned to write three more books set in the 1750’s, this time about the Shaw family, and I’m spoiled for choice with plots. I’ve written another book, yet to find a home, about another aspect of life back then, the race to discover longitude, and the craze for astronomy.
I can’t see my interest ever waning!

Saturday, July 09, 2016

A Spy at Pemberley - A Jane Austen variation.

£1.99 $2.99
A Spy at Pemberley is the final book in the 'At Pemberley' series. Darcy and Lizzy have been married for some time and their union is going through troubled times. This is bought to a head when Caroline Bingley, who always had designs on Darcy, arrives unexpectedly. 
If having Darcy’s old flame under her roof wasn’t enough for Lizzy to contend with Colonel Fitzwilliam, an intelligence officer, arrives also. However, this isn’t a purely social call as he needs Darcy’s assistance to entrap two spies who are passing secrets to the French. Against her better judgment Lizzy is drawn into this dangerous escapade and asked to invite the suspects to a house party at Pemberley. 
As Lizzy and Darcy dash from Pemberley to London and back again they not only unmask the traitors but rekindle the spark that brought them together all those summers ago.

Writing a series is the done thing nowadays. Trad publishers want them and so do readers. I've completed two WW2 series, one Victorian and this Regency Jane Austen liked one. I've written two of a six book series - The Duke's Alliance - the third will be out next January. I'm halfway through writing the first book in a three book WW2 series about a female ATA pilot. I've only written one single title this year - the Christmas story for the next Regency Romantics box set. 
It was even more difficult doing a series with someone else's characters. I enjoyed writing four books linked to Pride & Prejudice but am glad to be saying goodbye to them now. Every Jane Austen fan has their own interpretation of the story and the character - I was told that 'Jane wouldn't have done that'. This was my Jane and she could do whatever I wanted.
I love the cover by J D Smith - I'm sure her designs  help to sell my books.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Remembering the Spanish Peninsular War

The effect of the Spanish Peninsular war on the 19th century national consciousness was in some ways similar to our own feelings about battles on the Western Front during the First World War. Both were part of a much wider conflict; both were extremely bloody; and both had a huge effect back in Britain.

And, as always happens in war, stories emerged which caught the public imagination. One of these was the (true) story of the Maid of Saragossa. Readers of Georgette Heyer's The Spanish Bride will remember the scene when Juana intrepidly rides back to their previous lodgings to return a stolen Sevres bowl to its owner. 'Well done, Juana!' exclaims Colonel Barnard. 'You're a heroine. Why, the Maid of Saragossa is nothing to you!'
 Wellington's HQ at Ciudad Rodrigo

I was reminded of all this when I saw the Scottish artist David Wilkie’s paintings of the Peninsular War in the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery. I’d seen lots of contemporary prints of the war but not proper oil paintings, so I was interested to see these. 

Wilkie visited Madrid in 1827 and, inspired by stories of Spanish guerrilla resistance, painted a series of pictures from the Spanish point of view. It is interesting that Wilkie chose the Spanish as his subjects. Perhaps he had seen too many returned British soldiers, wounded and out of work, begging on the streets for him to want to glamorize them.

The Guerrilla’s Departure by David Wilkie, 1828

The Guerrilla’s Departure, painted in 1828, shows a Carmelite monk offering a guerrilla a light for his cigar. Tobacco smoking was ubiquitous, thanks to the Spanish colonies in Latin America, and Wilkie’s depiction of an ordinary working man smoking a cigar must have startled people back home. And was Wilkie, a son of the manse, also hinting at Roman Catholic intrigue with the monk offering the guerrilla a light? The church towers up behind them, and a ragged boy sits on the ground looking up at the scene. A laden donkey waits behind the man.


The Guerrilla’s Return by David Wilkie, 1828

The companion picture The Guerrilla’s Return (1828) shows the returning guerrilla. He arrives ragged and wounded, his left arm heavily bandaged, slouching on his exhausted donkey, his gun pointing downwards in a gesture of defeat. There is no church involvement here; this is personal. A young woman wearing a mantilla, perhaps his wife or sweetheart, holds up both hands in distress. Behind him we can just glimpse a man who has, perhaps, helped the guerrilla get home safely. In the front right of the canvas a kneeling girl looks up.

The Defence of Saragossa, by David Wilkie, 1828

Wilkie’s most famous picture The Defence of Saragossa (1828) takes as its subject the true story of Agustina Zaragoza, ‘the Maid of Saragossa’. In 1808, the French besieged Saragossa, a city which had not been attacked for four hundred and fifty years. The local guerrilla leader, Palafox, and the priest Boggiero, another hero of the resistance, seen conferring at the back, have managed to aim a gun at the French. They are ill-equipped and the ramparts are crumbling. How can they hold off the French with a few ancient cannons? They are heavily outnumbered.
Turret on the ramparts of Ciudad Rodrigo

Behind the cannon, slumped on the floor, is the dying gunner Zaragoza. His wife, the twenty-two-year-old Agustina, has seen the French bayonets wreaking havoc on the defenders who are losing heart. Heroically, she runs forward, seizes a match and fires the gun at the French at point blank range, mowing them down. Inspired by her bravery, the fleeing Spanish rallied to her defence and, together, they beat off the French – at least for a while.  

The ramparts of Santa Lucia.

Wilkie’s picture of this stirring event is a highly-dramatic one. The cannon is pushed up against the ramparts by four straining men. Agustina, in a swirl of white and pink drapery, holds the lighted taper aloft, ready to fire the cannon. Behind her, pressed against the ruined city wall, Palafox talks to Boggiero.

Agustina's story quickly spread. Byron depicts her in the first canto of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Here, she is inflamed by the sight of her lover mown down by the French.

Her lover sinks—she sheds no ill-timed tear;
Her chief is slain—she fills his fatal post;
Her fellows flee—she checks their base career;
The foe retires—she heads the sallying host:
Who can appease like her a lover's ghost?
The French, as Byron puts it, are: ‘Foiled by a woman's hand, before a battered wall.’ This extract comes from Canto 1, published in 1812 while the Peninsular War still raged.

                  After her heroism at Saragossa, Agustina became a rebel with the guerrilleros helping to harass the French and it's good to know that she lived to a ripe old age. Interestingly, Byron actually met Agustina some years after he wrote Childe Harold.

Bridge over the River Coa, she scene of fierce fighting

Many of us who write Regencies have sent our characters to the killing fields of the Peninsular War. Indeed, I’ve done so myself. So I thought you might enjoy a glimpse of a different take on the subject with David Wilkie’s vivid paintings.

 If you’d like to see the paintings for yourself, they in the Scottish Artists 1750-1900: from Caledonia to the Continent exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery until 9 October, 2016

 Photos: The Guerrilla’s Departure by David Wilkie and The Defence of Saragossa by David Wilkie courtesy of the Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Other photos by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley


Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Infamous Arrandales

July sees the publication of the last book in the Infamous Arrandales series, The Outcast's Redemption.

Those who have followed the series will know that the Arrandales have always courted scandal, but the most infamous of them all is Wolfgang, who fled to France following the death of his wife and the disappearance of a valuable necklace (I think one of the saddest facts of life in the Regency period is that loss of property was considered a more serious matter than loss of life).

So, ten years later, Wolf Arrandale returns to England determined to prove his innocence. Here's the first lines of the book -

March 1804

The village of Arrandale was bathed in frosty moonlight. Nothing stirred and most windows were shuttered or in darkness. Except the house standing within the shadow of the church. It was a stone building, square and sturdy, and lamps shone brightly in the two ground-floor windows that flanked the door. It was the home of Mr Titus Duncombe, the local parson, and the lights promised a welcome for any soul in need.

Just as they had always done, thought the man walking up the steps to the front door. Just as they had done ten years ago, when he had ridden through the village with the devil on his heels. Then he had not stopped. Now he was older, wiser and in need of help.

Mr Duncombe's daughter, Grace, is at first wary of the vagabond who arrives at her father's door, but she is soon caught up in Wolfgang's search for the truth.

I loved writing this series, and especially in bringing the final mystery to an end with Wolf and Grace's story. And even as I was announcing the arrival of The Outcast's Redemption, the postman delivered copies of the Italian version of the second book in the series. In English the title is Temptation of a Governess, the Italian, as you can see from the cover, always sounds so much more romantic and mysterious!


Sarah Mallory /Melinda Hammond