Sunday, April 30, 2017

Past Times and Pubs with Fanciful Names

One of my joys with research is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, of which I have two copies. One is pretty old, though not a first edition. The other is more up to date, acquired from WH Smith in the 70s or 80s, I think. It says it’s a facsimile of the 1894 edition, so mine may be earlier as close examination finds differences in the text.

One of my favourite digs in these tomes is to find unusual pub names to use, and the pages devoted to this are a delight to me, with stories or origins of the names and unexpected finds. A few examples I’d like to share here.

 The Bag o’ Nails is a corruption of the “Bacchanals”. You might guess it from the inn sign, which certainly looks Bacchanalian. But its meaning has changed over time. Grose says this: “He squints like a bag of nails; i.e. his eyes are directed as many ways as the points of a bag of nails. The old BAG OF NAILS at Pimlico; originally the BACCHANALS.”

These days I find the phrase has come to mean everything is in disarray. In the sixties The Bag o’ Nails was a music club in London boasting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Georgie Fame and Eric Burdon.

Here we have The Blue Pig, a name I used in The Deathly Portent (my second Lady Fan Mystery). Another corruption, this time of The Blue Boar, which Brewer tells us is the cognizance of Richard III. A cognizance, in Heraldry, is “a distinctive emblem or badge formerly worn by retainers of a noble house”. Not sure how Richard would have felt about the pig!

Speaking of pigs, I was amazed to find that The Pig and Tinder Box (for which I could find no pub sign image although there is one in Tamworth apparently) is, according to Brewer, a colloquial name for The Elephant and Castle, “in allusion to its sign of a pig-like elephant surmounted by an erection intended to represent a castle but which might pass as a tinderbox”.

To my regret, I could not find a single pub sign with an elephant that looked like a pig, but this one is, I think, rather entertaining.

The Cat and Fiddle, which I thought had something to do with the nursery rhyme and the cow jumping over the moon is disappointingly a corruption of Caton Fidèle, “i.e. Caton, the faithful governor of Calais.” I cannot find any reference to Caton, the brave governor of Calais being John de Vienne who was one of the 6 burghers – the subject of Rodin’s sculpture - to give themselves up to Edward III.

However, Brewer goes on to say that La Chatte Fidèle, a pub in Farringdon (Devon) commemorates a faithful cat. Or, he claims, it could also simply mean “the game of cat (trap-ball) and fiddle for dancing are provided for the customers”. Which seems only too likely to me.

The Hole in the Wall, which we now know as a place to get cash, was originally so called “because it was approached by a small passage or ‘hole’ between houses standing in front of the tavern”. Which makes one wonder how on earth you ever found the place. This sign seems to bear out the explanation though.

The rather charmingly named The Swan with Two Necks is correctly Nicks from the “nicks” cut into a swan’s beak to mark ownership. Two nicks belonged to the Vintners Companies’, while five meant the swans were royal. “Swan-upping” is “the taking up of swans and placing marks of ownership on their beaks”. This was done annually down the Thames evidently, and perhaps it still is. The Swan with Two Necks pub was, in the Regency, one of the main London stagecoach starting points, and it thus features in my Fated Folly when our heroine is trying to find out if her brother has eloped with her friend.

Sadly, I couldn’t find any images for The Iron Devil, which sounds like some kind of medieval instrument of torture, was in fact a corruption of Hirondelle, French for swallow.

But I could not end without mentioning The Man Laden with Mischief, rather uncomplimentary to the fair sex (how surprising!), which was a public house sign in Oxford Street, said to have been painted by Hogarth, “and shows a man carrying a woman and a lot of other impedimenta on his back”. I leave you to judge of the justice of this commentary.

Elizabeth Bailey

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Wild Lavender

Wild Lavender is out! This is both a good and a bad thing, since it is the last in the Emperors of London series. I’ve had a ball writing the series, and I am sorry to leave it behind. However, the characters who have yet to find their true loves will feature in future series.
Helena is the daughter of a careless father and a scheming mother. Her mother has decided that Helena is to be the single daughter, the comfort and companion, but Helena’s brother Julius is determined not to let that happen.
Helena, meantime, has met and fallen in love with the most unsuitable man imaginable, the son of her family’s direst enemy. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story, one of my favourite themes. I’ve been working towards this ending the whole series.
When I start a new series, I generally know where it will end. I knew that I’d end this one with Helena and Tom, although many readers thought it would be the kingpin of the Emperors, Julius.
Knowing how a series climaxes helps me to keep the books in focus as I tell each character’s story.
But I get to revisit the characters with the new series, The Shaws! These characters are just too interesting to leave behind!

Buy the Book and read an extract:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble Nook
Ravishingly beautiful and accomplished, Helena has her pick of suitable bachelors—and because she is the daughter of a powerful duke, her mother is determined she makes a good marriage. But Helena won't marry any of them, because she is in love with the son of her family’s most dangerous enemy. Though she has now been rebuffed by her beloved, she is resolved to win him back—no matter the cost.Tom’s forbidden love for Helena has only intensified over the years of their separation. But the discovery of his true roots has changed everything. His secret spells danger for his family and everyone he loves. Devoted to Helena, he will sacrifice anything—even his one great love—to keep her safe. And soon, caught between warring factions and hounded by a deadly assassin, the couple will be swept back together in a fight for their lives, and their destiny…

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Silent Companion!

Nicola here. If, like me, you don't like waxworks or dummies, one of the scariest things that can happen when you visit a historic house is unexpectedly coming across what is known as a "chimney board." I'm not of a particularly nervous disposition but if I wander through the deserted rooms of a stately home and catch a glimpse of a still figure staring at me I do find it slightly creepy!

The dummy board or chimney board is a life-size, flat wooden figure painted and shaped in outline to resemble a real person. They come in all shapes and sizes - solders, servants, children, even animals. These first silent companions as they were also known, were produced in the 17th century and were intended to be decorative jokes. There are stories from the period of telling of how, for example, one gentleman placed a wooden maidservant at the door of his salon and everyone found it highly amusing when one of the guests tried to tip her. No doubt such impostures were easier in the days of poor lighting! In 1777 Miss Sally Wister of Philadelphia wrote in her diary that the cut out wooden figure of a British
grenadier, six foot tall and looking very fierce, startled a nervous visitor to the house who ran away thinking that the British had arrived. Wooden grenadiers were also on guard at the Tower of London as early as 1700 and it was a feature of tobacconists shops in the years of the Jacobite rebellions to have cut out figures of Highlanders! A newspaper of 1745 commented: "We hear that the dapper wooden Highlanders who guard so heroically the doors of snuff-shops intend  to petition the legislature that they may be excused from complying with the Act of Parliament with regard to their change of dress," this being the time that the wearing of the kilt was forbidden. In 19th century North America carved figures of Red Indians were adopted by tobacco stores in a similar manner.

A secondary use for such wooden cut outs was to act as a firescreen. Although some were used to shield people from the heat, this did cause the paint and varnish to warp, and where they were made of paper stuck onto the wood there was a double danger that they might catch fire. The figures were better used to mask an open fireplace during the summer months.

There was a huge variety of different types of figures. Servants, particularly maids with brooms, were very popular. A maid peeling apples sits in the hall of one National Trust house whilst male servants are depicted ushering visitors into rooms. Pairs of children with pets and toys were also popular. Figures of soldiers were used to guard doorways in private houses, inns and military establishments. As late as the 1870s soldier figures were popular decorations at provincial tea gardens!

Some animal figures from the past few centuries also survive, including cats, particularly tabbies, dogs, pigs, parrots and rabbits. Whilst many of these boards were created by sign-makers, some were designed by established artists.

There was a rumour that Van Dyck had painted a board that resembled a maidservant at Lullingstone
Castle when she tended him through illness there. Gainsborough created a wonderful half-size figure which he set up on his garden wall to the surprise of passers by. It was known as Thomas Peartree!

Have you seen any "silent companions"? Do you find them fun, attractive or creepy?! Would you have one in your own home?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Blue Skies & Tiger Moths - Ellen's War - new WW2 series
Pre-order link.

It is always exciting for a writer to start a new series - at least it is for me. I have completed two WW2 series, Barbara's War (3 books) and Victoria's War (2 books). I am writing the fourth book in a Regency series, The Duke's Alliance, and there are two more to go. I completed a three book, At Pemberley, series of Jane Austen variations last year. I have just sent the third book in a Victorian series, The Nightingale Chronicles, to my editor and the fourth and final book will be written next year.
Ellen's War will have three books, the second, An ATA Girl, will follow her during her life as a ferry pilot. Strange that there were only two fiction books about ATA girls when I started writing mine but now there are at least two more that I know of about to be published. 
I love the cover (J D Smith) it was shot for me so there will never be another one the same. I had the images for the other books done at the same time as well. Having unique covers makes me fell a very grown up writer. All my covers are wonderful and original, but I as we use stock images I often see the same model on other book covers.

Here is the blurb and the first page to give you a taster. Hope you enjoy it. I can't wait to get back to Ellie and write the next installment despite the fact that my desk will be piled high with research books/notes etc whilst I'm writing as I have to constantly check facts. I'm hoping this will be THE book and launch my career into the stratosphere. I can always dream - even after 60 books, that I have  written a mega-best seller.

Ellie Simpson is a flying instructor and good at her job but war is coming and when it does she will no longer be able to do what she loves most -fly. The arrival of flying officer Gregory Dunlop, and the nephew of her boss, Jack Reynolds, in her life only complicates matters. When she can no longer take to the skies in her beloved Tiger Moth she decides to join the WAAF. Then tragedy strikes and she has to rethink her life.

July 1939, Essex

'Well, Miss Simpson, what do you think?' Joseph Cross asked as he pointed to the de Havilland 60 Moth that stood proudly on the worn grass outside what served as a hangar.
Ellie wanted to hug him but thought he might not appreciate the gesture. 'I love it. Is it dual control?'
'No, but it has the usual two seats so can take a passenger.'
'Good – I've got more than enough pupils to teach. Since the Government subsidy last year every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to learn to fly.'
'I hope you don't expect me to pay you any extra, young lady. I reckon you owe me far more than your wages would have been for all the lessons and hours you've spent flying my aircraft over the past five years.'

She put her hands on her hips. 'Giving my brothers and me lessons at your flying club couldn't have been as much as the rent you would have had to pay to use my father's barns and fields.' He was about to interrupt but she continued. 'Not forgetting the fact that Dad bought the first aircraft and both Neil and George acted as instructors until they joined the RAF.'
He scowled but she wasn't fooled for a minute. 'The cost of one lesson is usually two pounds – the three of you never paid a penny…'
'Joe, I don't want to stand here arguing anymore. I want to take her up before it gets too hot. Are you coming with me or can I go solo?'
'Circuits and bumps only, my girl, no flying off into the wild blue yonder. There are three new enquiries to be dealt with in the office – I want you to sort those out this morning.'
The other aircraft the flying club owned were a Swallow and a Gypsy Moth. Both were fitted with dual controls. Joe had several clients who liked to go up on their own and poodle about until the fuel ran out. This de Havilland had been bought to satisfy those clients.
Sidney, the ground engineer, and the only other full-time employee, wandered out from the hangar. 'Nice little machine, Ellie, sweet as a nut. You going to take it up for a spin?'
'If that's all right with you, I'd love to. I'll not be long – I just want to get the feel of it for myself.'
'The bloke what brought it said it flies like the Gypsy only a bit faster. You'll have no problem – you're a natural. I remember your first solo flight when you were no more than a nipper…'
Joe poked his head out of the office. 'No time for reminiscing, Sid, let her get on with it. Just had a bell and we've got a new pupil coming in an hour.'
'Sorry, guv, I'll not hold her up.'
She collected her helmet and goggles and scrambled into the cockpit. Even though the weather was warm she needed her flying jacket on over her dungarees. It got a bit nippy a thousand feet above the land. After doing her preflight checks she taxied into position on the grass runway and took off.
An uneventful forty-five minutes later she landed smoothly and headed for the office to catch up with the paperwork. The new pupil, a middle-aged bank manager, decided after a couple of circuits of the field that he didn't want to learn to fly after all.
As they'd only been in the air for a quarter of an hour there was no charge. By the time her last pupil left the airfield it was almost six o'clock. Often they had to work until it was too dark to fly but tonight they'd finished early. Ellie left Sid to lock up and jumped onto her bicycle. At least in the summer Dad didn't come in for his tea until late so she wouldn't have missed her meal.
She pedalled furiously down the track, swerving instinctively around the dips and ruts, covering the mile in record time. She skidded into the yard, sending half a dozen chickens squawking into the air in protest, and tossed her bike against the wall.
With luck she'd have time to wash before her parents sat down to eat. It had taken Mum months to get used to seeing her only daughter dressed in slacks or dungarees. She might be a farmer's wife now, but she'd come from a grand family and had very high standards.
The fact that Mum had been disowned when she'd married a farmer should have softened her but instead, according to Dad, it had made her even more determined to bring her children up as though they were landed gentry and not the children of a farmer.
After a quick sluice in the scullery Ellie headed to the kitchen – she was about to open the door when she realised the voices she'd heard were coming from the seldom used sitting room. Mum insisted on calling it the drawing room, but no one else did.
This must mean they had guests. She looked down at her scruffy oil-stained dungarees and wondered if she had time to nip upstairs and put on something more respectable. Unfortunately, her mother must have heard her come in.
'Ellen, you are very late this evening. Had you forgotten Neil has a twenty-four hour pass?'

Fenella J Miller

Monday, April 10, 2017


 I have been writing Georgian and Regency romantic adventures for decades now, and one cannot research the period without coming up against the dark shadow of war. England and France had been at war, off and on, for centuries, it affected everyone's lives, from trivial problems such as where to buy French brandy, to families fearing for their loved ones who were in the army or navy.
I make no apology for my first illustration of this post - Cornwell may not write "romantic novels", but there can be no doubt that this guy sets many hearts a-flutter!)

As a romantic novelist I am writing an entertainment, but although the main theme of my books may be love, and the reader is guaranteed a happy ending, I also like to acknowledge at least some of the realities of life in the Georgian and Regency period, and very often that means alluding to war in some way. My latest Sarah Mallory novel, The Duke's Secret Heir, is partly set in Harrogate, and even in this genteel watering place the consequences of war make themselves felt: the duke is there to visit his closest friend, an ex-soldier who is surviving with a bullet lodged in his lung.

There were breaks in the hostilities between England and France. One of them was the short-lived Treaty of Amiens, which lasted for just over a year from March 1802. I used this period as the setting for another story, where I sent my newlyweds careering across France. War was declared again before they could complete their journey back to England and they had to use a great deal of ingenuity to escape, so it proved a very adventurous honeymoon! At one point, as their coach hurtled through a hostile village, it was pelted with sabots by the locals (and it is said that the word sabotage derives from the disgruntled French workers from  about this time, throwing their wooden clogs into the machinery to damage it). I had great fun with this book, and it remains a firm favourite, a lively tale despite the fearful danger surrounding my couple. It is currently e-published as To Marry a Marquis in the Ladies in Love box-set, available on Amazon.
One of the turning points for the Regency was the Battle of Waterloo – "a damn close-run thing," as Wellington described it. Perhaps it was growing up in a street full of boys and playing war games most evenings and holidays that gave me a liking for action, and I find military history fascinating. However, I write romance, and mainly from the female point of view, so most of my books show the aftermath of war rather than the battles themselves. Most ladies were kept well away from scenes of conflict, even soldiers' wives and the camp followers did not venture onto the battlefield itself until after the event. However, in A Lady for Lord Randall ,my Sarah Mallory book for the Brides of Waterloo series, the hero is a colonel, and I did put in a large battle scene, which I thoroughly enjoyed writing!

Hand to hand fighting at Hougoumont

Fascinating as it might be, war is a dark and desperate business. When I was refreshing one of my early Melinda Hammond novels ready to re-publish it as an e-book , I had quite a surprise. I had forgotten just how much description I had included about Waterloo. In Maid of Honour, my heroine, Lucy, travels to Brussels in June 1815. She attends Lady Richmond's Ball, probably the most famous party of all time, and unlike most of her non-military compatriots, she remains in Brussels during the battle. Maid of Honour is written mainly from the heroine's point of view, and since it was not the hero, but Lucy's childhood sweetheart Tom who is the soldier, I wrote this part of the story as Lucy would have experienced it.

On the day of the battle itself she mistook the rumble of guns for thunder over Brussels, until a crippled old veteran explained. Then, fleeing cavalry careered through the town proclaiming that all was lost, the Allies were defeated and Bonaparte would be in Brussels by nightfall.

Lucy is advised to leave the city but she is determined to remain, and when at last she learns that Napoleon has been defeated, she waits anxiously for Tom's return. When she learns his regiment was caught up in some of the bloodiest fighting near Hougoumont she sets out to look for him on the battlefield itself. Here's a brief excerpt: (NB if you are of a nervous disposition, you may want to skip this bit!)


It seemed to Lucy that the full horror of the battle was spread below her. The ground was covered with the dead, men and horses entangled in a nightmare pattern, the garish colours of the uniforms dulled by mud and grime and dried blood. Scores of French cavalry had died attacking the British squares, yet the men who had shot them down now lay dead in the very formations they had fought so hard to maintain. That anyone could come out of the battle alive seemed to Lucy to be nothing less than a miracle. A movement caught her eye and she saw grey-cloaked women moving amongst the dead, taking rings and watches, even pulling teeth from the corpses to sell in the markets of Brussels and London.


She finally finds Tom in one of the field hospitals. These are little more than a huddle of tents with overworked medical officers and surgeons doing their best to save lives. There was very little they could do – there were no painkillers or antibiotics, and surgeons would remove an injured limb in an attempt to save a man. It was crude, brutal, and those who did not die of their wounds often succumbed to infection. This section of the book is dark, perhaps, but I wanted to show the horror Lucy was experiencing. She was a young woman from a privileged background, accustomed to a safe, comfortable home. Suddenly she finds herself in a nightmare world where she has to draw on all her strength of character to get through it.

A romance needs a backdrop, and there is no doubt that wartime provides one of the most dramatic. Whether the characters are in physical danger themselves, or living with the uncertainty of what may happen to their loved ones, war adds an extra dimension to a story.

What is your favourite wartime romance? Is it perhaps a literary classic like War & Peace or an epic like Gone With the Wind? Or maybe it's a romance by Carla Kelly, or Louise Allen? There are so many to choose from, so wartime romance clearly strikes a chord with many readers.

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Elopement of Elizabeth Ann Linley and Richard Brinsley Sheridan

This post was inspired by my recent visit to the wonderful Dulwich Picture Gallery, London – and what I saw there.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery is too long to photograph all of it at once. The entrance is in the middle, so you can judge the size for yourself.

The gallery, built by Sir John Soane to house the Bourgeois collection, has all of Soane’s trademarks: simplicity, elegance and style, and, thanks to his innovative sky lighting, it makes the most of natural light from above. It’s a great space in which to show off the paintings to their best advantage.


Inside the gallery; note the light coming in from the ceiling

For my money, the Dulwich Picture Gallery is just the right size. It’s not too big (I hate the feeling of cultural indigestion from Too Much Art) and it has some terrific paintings: among them the Linley Collection, the subject of this post, of which more in a moment. 

Magnolia and daffodils

Outside, the grounds are perfect for wandering round and admiring nature. There are plenty of chairs and tables to sit down and enjoy a coffee. When I visited, the daffodils were out, a magnolia was in full bloom, and a horse chestnut was just putting forth its finger-like leaves, now hanging down like green gloves, and the emerging small candles showed a touch of colour.


Paola making coffee

There is a restaurant to one side of the picture gallery, or, if you prefer something less formal, with a coffee stall at the end of the corridor, the friendly Paola will make you the tea/coffee of your choice, and offer you a tempting array of homemade cake or biscuits.
But to return to the Linley Collection.


Elizabeth and Mary Linley by Thomas Gainsborough, 1772, Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Linley family dominated musical life in Bath in the late 18th century. The father, Thomas Linley (1733-1795) was a music impresario and composer. He had eight living children (four died), all of whom were musically talented. The two daughters depicted above: Elizabeth, in blue, was one of the best sopranos of her day, and Mary, seated, was a successful singer and actress.   


Elizabeth Ann Linley (Mrs R. B. Sheridan) 1754-1792, singer and writer, age 31, by Thomas Gainsborough

Elizabeth made her debut at nine and became the outstanding soprano of her age, praised for her beauty, intelligence and modesty, as well as for her voice. The moment I saw her, I thought: she’s obviously a heroine.
But she has a problem: several problems, in fact. (As heroines do.) She is betrothed to a much older man she doesn’t particularly like; she is also being harassed by Captain Thomas Mathews, a married man and a friend of her father’s; and her father is working her far too hard. (The Bath Chronicle estimated in 1773 that her father had made nearly £10,000 from her voice – a stupendous amount of money at the time.)


Her ambitious father, Thomas Linley (1733-1796), impresario and composer, by Thomas Gainsborough,  in Dulwich Picture Gallery

Thomas Linley exploited the talents of all his children, particularly Elizabeth, fully. Too fully, perhaps: as one critic commented: ‘she has a sweet voice, but he makes her sing too much and too hard songs, for she is very young.’ She was about nine at the time.
Thomas became the director of music in Bath in 1771, manipulating the system so that he eventually controlled the oratorio seasons in both the old and new rooms – where his talented children, of course, performed. This was much resented by other musicians, who couldn’t get a look in, as well as by Elizabeth, whose health was fragile and who complained of overwork.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1815) playwright and politician by John Hoppner

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, born in Dublin, came to Bath in 1772. He was later to write those hilarious comedies, The Rivals and School for Scandal, and become a politician of note. However, in 1772, he was only twenty-one and he fell in love with Elizabeth. (Enter the hero.) The next thing we know is that he fought two duels with Captain Mathews (who’d written a newspaper article defaming Elizabeth – presumably out of pique), and was badly wounded.

Elizabeth suffers some sort of breakdown and flees to France, vowing to go into a convent (as one does) and Sheridan escorts her. They are passionately in love, but is it an elopement, or not? This is where the story gets messy; accounts of the episode vary. The lovers get married but, as she is under age, it’s probably invalid…. As a writer, I was fascinated by this story and longed to know how it all worked out.

Mulberry tree in Dulwich Picture Gallery grounds; seating in the background

For those of us who write novels set in the Georgian period, it’s not easy to find the heroine an interesting job. Work options for ladies were limited to being a governess or a lady companion. (Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice commented that she’d like nothing less than being a governess.)

For a novelist, having a heroine who’s a governess at least solves the problem of how she meets the hero, but it has its limitations. However, a musical heroine has much more scope; her world is a wider one: she can travel to concert venues and meet suitable (or unsuitable) men as part of her job. If, like Elizabeth Linley, she is beautiful, intelligent, modest and talented, it could open a lot of social doors. And it was a lot better paid, too!

Novelists, take note!
Elizabeth Hawksley