Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Consulting the future: Napoleon’s Book of Fate and Oraculum

Our ancestors were no less given to ways of foretelling the future than we are. Whether you regularly read your star sign in the newspaper, consult a medium or have your hand read in the gypsy stall at a fair, you are in good company.

According to a book I acquired long ago, Napoleon is said to have consulted his oracle on every important occasion. The book is supposed to be, it states, “a fac simile of the one used by NAPOLEON” (their spelling of facsimile).

I am not sure how much good it did him, if we are to judge how much poor old Napoleon changed over the years.

Not only does this book contain a complicated oracle, it goes into interpreting dreams, “weather omens, astrological miscellany and important advice”. Also palmistry, observing moles, face reading, lucky days and a whole lot more.

The oraculum starts with rules. What you do is make five rows of lines, making sure there’s at least a dozen on each line. You then count the lines on each row, and if the number is odd, you assign it one dot, and if it’s even, you assign it two dots.

That gives you a pattern, as you can see in the illustration. You can then ask one of 32 questions, and the following pages give you a key. You locate your pattern, run down the column to your question, and find the letter given. Then you go the page for that letter, again find your pattern, and you get your answer.

Highly random, the whole thing. The questions are couched in old-fashioned language, as are the answers.

Let’s do a test. Question 15 seems appropriate to our present.

What is the aspect of the SEASONS, and what POLITICAL CHANGES are to take place?

I’ve done my lines and come up with odd, even, even, odd, odd. The key gives me the letter V. My answer is: “Expect a plentiful harvest.” What to make of that, I really don’t know!

There’s a warning that it is improper to ask TWO questions on the same day, so I can’t do another one. Instead, let’s have a look the second Oraculum or Book of Fate, which has a slightly different system of four rows of dots and only 16 questions.

I had a peculiar dream the other day, so let’s ask “What does my dream signify?”
Oh my sainted aunt! The answer is: “Signifies trouble and sorrow.” Argghh!

Enough of that already. What about moles? I have about 500 of them I think, so this should be good. I’m going for the biggest one on my face. The closest is upper lip, which shows happiness in marriage. Well, that’s better, though it’s a bit late for me.

Without our amazing Met Office, I daresay the weather omens would come in handy. Spiders seem to figure strongly, but how about these for omens of foul and wet weather, which is pretty standard for the UK most of the time?

If the crows make a great deal of noise, and fly round and round.
If worms creep out of the ground in great numbers.
If the owl screech.
If asses shake their ears, bray, and rub against walls or trees.

Ah, here’s one most of us ought to be able to notice:
If cats lick their bodies, and wash their faces.

We won’t go into face reading, or you'll be off in the mirror checking out your eyes!

To finish, I will wish you fortunate dreams:  of baking, of catching birds, of camels, clocks or cheese, of apricots, milk, leaping or – and what could be more dream inducing? - the moon.

Speaking of which, I will leave you with this moon charm to discover your future husband.

Elizabeth Bailey

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hybrid Publishing - is this the new way forward ?

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Here I go on a new adventure. I always wanted to work with a mainstream publisher and now I am. Aria - Head of Zeus bought this book and the two that follow.  The Spitfire Girl comes out tomorrow and I don't quite know what I'm expecting. I have had my hair cut and gone an a diet as I thought I needed to be ready in case the press are beating down my door demanding an interview. :)
The jury's still out on this hybrid publishing lark.
 I love having an enthusiastic and excellent team there to support me, but dislike not being in charge. After almost 60 books indie-published, where I'm fully in control of the process, having to wait a week for an answer to an email etc is frustrating.
What I do like is that I'll no longer feel so personally offended if a reviewer gives me a 1*review. There's one on Goodreads that calls me retarded and refers to a character as 'airport boy'. Reviewer doesn't know the difference between an airfield and an airport. Now I can relax knowing if 'my team' love the book then the reviewer must be wrong. 
I'm also not thrilled with being in the dark about sales etc. Amazon is so good now with data that I know exactly what I'm earning and can plan my expenditure. I don't even know how much I'll get per sale let alone anything else. On the other hand I now have a big publisher as eager as I am to push the book and don't have to do it all myself.
I love that they have organised a blog tour, put the title on NetGalley and I don't have to be involved. I did write five posts -but didn't have to.
The blurb was written by someone else and I didn't see it until it went up.  Some things needed changing and I wished I'd seen it before it was visible to the public..
I was fully involved with the cover and title choice but in the end it was my editor's decision. I have to accept that she knows the market better than I do.
The difficulty is that I feel strangely divorced from this book, as if it is no longer anything to do with me. Like a son or daughter leaving home it now has to find its own way in the world.

Here is an extract - hope you enjoy it.

July 1939
‘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 the barn that served as a hanger.
Ellen 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 farms 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 pootle 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 hanger. ‘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 at a thousand feet above the land. After doing her pre-flight 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. Ellen 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 front parlour. 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?’
She was pretty sure this was the first she’d heard of it but having her oldest brother home was a wonderful surprise. She didn’t stop to think why this meant they were in the parlour, and burst in.
‘Hello, little sister, I’ve brought a chum along. Let me introduce you to Gregory Dunlop.’
Only then did she become aware of the second RAF uniformed young man staring at her with open admiration. He was a bit shorter than Neil, but broader in the shoulders, with corn coloured hair and startlingly blue eyes.
‘I’m pleased to meet you, Flying Officer Dunlop.’ She wasn’t sure if she should offer her hand as despite her best efforts it was far from clean.
He stepped closer and held out his and she had no option but to take it. ‘I’ve heard so much about you, Miss Simpson, and have been pestering your brother for an invitation in order to meet you for myself.’
His grip was firm, his hand smoother than hers – but what caught her attention was his upper crust accent. ‘I’m sorry to appear in my work clothes. If you don’t mind waiting a few more minutes I’ll pop upstairs and change into something more suitable for the occasion.’
‘Please, don’t worry on my account. I think you look perfectly splendid just as you are.’
He seemed reluctant to release her hand but she pulled it away firmly. He was a very attractive man and was obviously interested in her, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend.
‘Run along, Ellen, you’ve got plenty of time to put on a frock as your father has only just come in himself. We are having a cold collation so nothing will be spoiled by waiting for another quarter of an hour.’
She smiled at her brother in resignation and he winked. They both knew there was no point in arguing once their mother had made up her mind.
She met her father in the passageway. ‘Have you got to change as well, Ellie? She told me at lunchtime I’ve got to put on something smart.’
‘It must be because of Neil’s friend. He certainly sounds very posh.’ She pushed open her bedroom door and was about to go in when he replied.
‘Seems a lot of fuss for nothing but easier to give in than put up with a week of black looks and sour faces.’ He shook his head sadly and went into the room he no longer shared with her mother. Ellie wished her parents had a happier relationship.
If there was one thing she’d learned, by watching the disintegration of what must once have been a happy union, it was this: Don’t marry for love as it doesn’t last. If she ever took the plunge it would be with a man she respected, liked and who shared her outlook on life.
Her mother had told her to put on a frock but she rebelled. She didn’t wish to impress their visitor so would come down in what she usually wore – slacks and blouse. The only time she put on a frock was when she was forced to attend church. Most Sundays she had the excuse that she had to work at the airfield.
She checked her face was oil free and ran a brush through her hair. Satisfied she was presentable she hurried downstairs eager to catch up on Neil’s news. George, her other brother, hadn’t been home since January and she was desperate to hear how he was doing.
Her mother pursed her lips when Ellie came in. ‘Is your father coming, Ellen?’
‘I don’t know, Mum, but I don’t think he’ll be long.’ She joined her brother by the open window, leaving his friend to entertain her mother.
‘I wish you wouldn’t deliberately provoke her, Ellie. Why won’t you call her Mother? You know how much she dislikes being called Mum, especially in front of strangers.’
She shrugged. ‘Whatever she was in the past, now she’s just a farmer’s wife. Have you finished your training?’
He grinned and pointed to the wings on his uniform. ‘I have, didn’t you see these? George is still in Scotland – seems he pranged a Moth and needs longer up there.’
‘He obviously didn’t hurt himself or you wouldn’t be so jolly. Do you know where you’re going to be stationed?’
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of her father looking uncomfortable in a collar and tie. After he was introduced to the guest her mother clapped her hands as if wishing to attract the attention of a crowd of children.
‘We shall go in to dine now that we are all here.’
Ellie hid her smile at her mother’s pretentiousness behind her hand. Ham and salad hardly deserved such an introduction.
When her father mentioned the likelihood of there being a war her mother insisted that this was not a suitable topic of conversation at the dinner table. No one was particularly interested in discussing the weather and an uneasy silence fell.
‘We’ve got another aircraft, Dad. I took her up and…’
Her mother glared at her. ‘I’m sure that Flying Officer Dunlop doesn’t want to hear about your highly unsuitable employment. A young lady should be interested in more feminine things, don’t you agree, Mr Dunlop?’
The young man nodded solemnly. ‘I’m sure that most girls would prefer to talk about fashion or flowers but your daughter is different. I’ve never met a female pilot before and am most impressed. How many hours solo do you have now, Miss Simpson?’
‘Please call me Ellie, everyone else does.’
‘And you must call me Greg.’
‘Well, Greg, to answer your question, I’ve been flying since I was twelve – six years now – and got my A licence when I was fourteen and my instructor’s certificate when I was sixteen. I’ve logged more than twelve hundred hours now.’
‘Good God! That’s a damn sight more than I have.’ He couldn’t fail to hear her mother’s horrified gasp. Instead of being embarrassed he smiled at her. ‘I apologise for my appalling language, Mrs Simpson, I do hope you will forgive me.’
‘Apology accepted. I’ll say no more on the matter.’
He turned to Ellie. ‘I want to hear how you manage in poor weather conditions and hope you will talk to me before we leave tomorrow morning.’
Before she could answer she was instructed to clear the table and fetch the dessert. Obediently she pushed her chair back and began to collect the plates. When Greg made a move to stand up she shook her head.
Clearing the table was a woman’s job, as well all the other domestic duties that she did her best to avoid. Pudding was a sherry trifle accompanied by a jug of thick, fresh cream from their dairy herd. She placed the large glass bowl on the tray and put the cream beside it. The ham salad, again all home-grown, had been excellent but this would be even better.

Fenella J Miller

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Brand New Sarah Mallory....

I have a new Sarah Mallory published in November – Beauty and the Brooding Lord. And yes, it has a Beauty and the Beast theme! It features Serena Russington, the spirited sister of Russ, my hero in The Ton's Most Notorious Rake. She thinks a rake would make an interesting husband and goes searching for one – with quite disastrous results!

Here is a short excerpt. To set the scene: Serena has slipped away into the garden for a secret assignation with Sir Timothy Forsbrook, whom she knows to be a rake….


… in the moonlight the paths gleamed pale silver and the roses themselves ranged from near black to pale blue-grey. But if the flowers had lost their colour, their scent was enhanced and Serena breathed in the heady fragrance as she made her way along the path, but when she reached the turn in the path she was aware of something else besides rose scent in the night air. A faint hint of tobacco.

Ahead she saw an arbour surrounded by climbing roses and her heart gave a little skip. There, in the shadows, was the unmistakable figure of a man. His upper body was hidden, but his crossed legs in their light-coloured knee breeches and white silk stockings were plainly visible in the gloom. Serena had expected to find her swain pacing up and down, impatient for her to arrive, but here he was, sitting at his ease. She quashed the faint ripple of disappointment and hurried up to him, smiling.

‘Forgive me, I was delayed. I—’ She broke off with a gasp as she peered into the shadows. ‘You are not Sir Timothy.’

‘No, I am not.’

The reply was an irritable growl. The figure rose from the seat and Serena took a hasty step backwards. She realised now that he was nothing like Sir Timothy Forsbrook. This man was much larger, for a start, although his upper body was so broad that he did not look overly tall. Where Sir Timothy’s glossy black locks were carefully styled about his head, the stranger’s hair was lighter and too long to be fashionable. And as he stepped out of the arbour she thought he was not at all handsome. In the moonlight his craggy face appeared harsh, as if he was scowling at her.

He towered over her and she took another step away.

‘Excuse me—’ She would have walked on but his next words stopped her.

‘There was a fellow here, but he has gone.’


‘Aye. He had the impudence to suggest I should vacate the seat, so I kicked him out.’

She swallowed. ‘Literally?’

His great shoulders lifted in a shrug. ‘No. Mere jostling. He retreated rather than have my fist spoil his face.’

She sucked in a long, indignant breath. ‘That is disgraceful behaviour. Quite boorish.’

‘I suppose you would have preferred me to give way. But why should I? I came out here to enjoy a cigarillo in peace. You two will have to find some other place for your lovemaking.’

His voice dripped scorn. Serena’s face burned with mortification.

‘How dare you! It is nothing like that.’


Knowing she was in the wrong did nothing for Serena’s temper. She drew herself up and said angrily, ‘You are odiously rude!’

‘If it’s soft words you want I suggest you go and find your lover.’

‘Oh, I shall go,’ she told him in a shaking voice,’ and he is not my lover.’

He grinned, his teeth gleaming white in the moonlight. ‘No need to be coy on my account, madam.’

Serena gasped. ‘Oooh, you…you…’

He folded his arms and looked down at her. ‘Yes?’

For a moment she glared at him, her hands closing into fists as she tried to control her rage. It would be most undignified to rip up at him. Resisting the urge to stamp her foot, she turned and swept off, muttering angrily under her breath all the insults she would like to hurl at the odious creature.


 I must say, things go from bad to worse for Serena after that but she discovers that the ideal man for her is very different from what she imagined!  Beauty and the Brooding Lord was great fun to write, so I hope you like it, too.
 And if you haven't yet read The Ton's Most Notorious Rake, it is currently 99p for the Kindle version!

Happy reading.

Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

Friday, October 05, 2018

High Living for Heroines

Last week I visited the magnificent Kenwood House, built in the 1760s by Robert Adam for the Earl of Mansfield. Whilst there, it struck me that what novelists need is not an in depth knowledge of a stately home’s architectural highlights but a record of some of the everyday objects which a heroine might come across.  

Kenwood House. The Orangery is on the left. In summer, the orange trees in tubs are moved outside.

Step forward Rosa Forbes, twenty-three, thin, badly-dressed and a bit prim, but with hidden possibilities, given the chance. Rosa’s widowed father thinks of nothing but hunting (in winter) and gambling (the rest of the year), he scarcely notices Rosa. When he dies, the estate is sold to pay off his debts and Rosa, in desperation, writes to her unknown great-aunt for help. Two weeks later, Rosa finds herself at the magnificent Manderville Court with only one shabby valise to her name.

Ceiling plaster work in the entrance hall

Rosa is entranced by the roundel and early the following morning she sneaks down and lies on the floor to admire it better. To her embarrassment, Lord Ludovic comes in unexpectedly and nearly trips over her.

'For Heaven's sake, Miss Forbes! What on earth are you doing down there?'

It is not a good start.

Mercury, the messenger god. What message does he have for Rosa?

As if being caught lying on the floor wasn't bad enough, she then catches sight of a plaster statue of a nude Greek god standing in a nonchalant way in an alcove – he has nothing on except for a fig leaf – and, ludicrously, a hat. She doesn’t know where to look. Lord L. is amused by her confusion, she can see. She flees.

Jet combs

Two new guests arrive, the supremely poised - and wealthy - Honourable Constantia Pomeroy, and her alarming mother. Rosa learns from her great-aunt that an engagement between Lord Ludovic and Miss Pomeroy is imminent.

They deserve each other, thinks Rosa.

'Really, Miss Forbes,' sniffs Miss Pomeroy, the first evening after her arrival, 'why are you peering so closely at that mantelpiece? I thought for a moment that you were a housemaid dusting it!'  She titters.

The Library alcove

There's one room Rosa really loves - the Library. She forgets to be shocked by the ceiling panel of Hercules choosing between Glory and the Passions. All she can do is breathe, ‘Oh!’ Those colours! The pale blue and pink set off the dark red and gold of the books so well. She walks around, entranced

The Library steps

Nobody’s there, so, greatly daring, she climbs the library steps and finds The History of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Mama once told her that it was very shocking - no lady should be seen reading it. Gingerly, she takes Volume I off the shelf and tucks it under her arm; she would jolly well read it, she vowed, but nobody would see her doing so. A day or so later, she is back at the top of the ladder. Tom Jones is terrific and she can’t wait to read Volume II. The ladder is standing in shadow when she hears laughter and footsteps. Lord Ludovic comes in with another house guest, the asinine Sir Godfrey, he of the braying laugh. 'Who on earth is Miss Forbes, Manderville? Zounds! I took her for a scullery maid until Miss Pomeroy told me she is actually a guest!'

Rosa grabbed Volume II of Tom Jones, more than half-inclined to hurl it at him. Then, reluctantly, she lowered her hand. That way lay disgrace. They hadn’t noticed her so far but when they turned round…

Library mantelpiece, looking glass and bust of Homer.

She glances across at the gold framed looking-glass in the alcove with the bust of Homer beside it, and, to her horror, sees Lord Ludovic looking straight at her. As their eyes meet, he winks and a tiny jerk of his head indicates that she escapes. He touches Sir Godfrey on the arm and points to the deer in the park.

The staircase

Lord Ludovic isn't all bad, thought Rosa, tip-toeing down the steps as fast as she could and fleeing back to her room, stumbling on the treads of the elegant cantilevered staircase. She finds her great-aunt’s lady’s maid in her bedroom with a couple of lengths of silk over her arm. ‘My Lady suggests that these would make you a couple of evening gowns,’ she spreads them over the bed.

‘But I’m hopeless at sewing!’ exclaims Rosa, sliding Tom Jones stealthily under the pillow.

‘And I am good at it!’ The lady’s maid smiles. ‘It would be no trouble.’


Then there’s the Drawing-room, where the ladies sit after dinner and wait for the gentlemen to finish their port and salacious stories before joining them. Rosa loves the way the chandelier's cut crystals sparkle in the candlelight. 

The chaise longue is covered in expensive damask and gilding

The chaise longue is obviously top of the range but it’s not comfortable. Rosa keeps feeling she’ll either slide off, or spill her coffee. Worse, the turquoise clashes with her new hyacinth blue silk evening gown. She overhears Sir Godfrey whispering behind Miss Pomeroy’s fan, and they both look in her direction.

Rosa lifts her chin defiantly. 

The pianoforte

There is a pianoforte in the corner. Rosa used to have piano and singing lessons every week. After her mother died, when Rosa was fifteen, that stopped and her father refused to have the piano re-tuned, so she could no longer even practice.

The next morning, Rosa sneaks into the Drawing-room and discovers some music inside the hinged piano stool. It doesn't look too difficult. She finds a couple of country songs she knows, takes a deep breath, sits down, runs her fingers lightly over the keys and begins to sing.

A voice behind her, a rich baritone, joins in ….

And that’s just Chapter I.

Elizabeth Hawksley