Monday, March 20, 2017

Hidden in the Wardrobe

It's spring, that time when I feel a most uncharacteristic inclination to clean and tidy. Whether this is a throwback to my childhood, when spring cleaning was quite a thing in my grandmother's household, or whether it's that I have just emerged blinking from writing my latest book, I find myself sorting out books and clothes and even occasionally wielding a duster.

The change over of winter to summer clothes is always fraught. Is it too soon to cast a clout? The garden seems to be flowering earlier and my lighter clothes are emerging earlier too. Which reminds me that it isn't only clothes that we keep in the wardrobe.

Recently I was talking to an author and publisher about re-discovering the romance books of my youth. By youth I’m talking about the very first books I read that could be described as being romantic, before I devoured Georgette Heyer or Jilly Cooper. I was about twelve years old. They included family sagas, romantic suspense – I remember Spindrift by Phyllis Whitney - and The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin. I loved discovering the Gothic suspense of Victoria Holt, and packed amongst the historicals were some of the raunchy 1970s contemporary novels. What an education they were.

I found all these books in my grandmother’s spare room wardrobe, tucked away amongst her evening dresses and smart clothes. The same cupboard contained her scent bottles and her jewellery.  Oh, and there were shoes too, beautiful shoes in different colours not like my brown school ones! My grandmother was a well-dressed lady but these were not the clothes she wore every day. These were special, packed away carefully in tissue paper and plastic bags, smelling of perfume and mothballs. As a result, the books smelled of perfume and mothballs too. They were lined up so you could see their spines yet when the wardrobe doors were closed you would not have known they were there.

My writing friends and I were discussing this and one of them recalled finding Hardacre, a classic family saga set from the Victorian era to the 1950s, in his mother’s wardrobe too. He suspected she had hidden it away because it had a single swear word in it. (Naturally he read the book and found that one word.) This set me thinking about wardrobes and the things people hide in them and why.

The first “wardrobes” were actually rooms in palaces or grand houses where the nobility kept their clothes.  For royalty this meant the place that the king kept his clothes, armour and treasure, and as a result, in medieval English government the “wardrobe” grew to become the royal palace’s accounting department, hence the role of Keeper of the King’s Wardrobe being so influential.

Ordinary people however, used chests to store their clothes. It was from these cupboards the modernth century. Here is my Regency-era hanging wardrobe, which I bought from Ebay!
wardrobe or freestanding “closet” emerged. There are examples of such “hanging cupboards” in the US that date from the 17

There’s something about wardrobes, isn’t there. Perhaps it’s the fact that you can lock things away in there. Perhaps it’s that they are big enough to hide in. And they are dark inside. The book by CS Lewis, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe uses the wardrobe as a gateway into another world. What is hidden inside is adventure and danger and an escape. In the play The Wardrobe by Sam Holcroft, the wardrobe is a place of safety and protection where for seven hundred years children have hidden from events in British history such as the Civil War and the plague.

Wardrobes aren’t just for clothes. People hide other things in them – secret diaries, money, forbidden things… Which brings us back to the books in the wardrobe. Was it simply a practical storage solution for my Nanna to keep her romance books in there? There were plenty of other bookshelves in the house, but they contained non-fiction and Readers Digest condensed editions. Was she ashamed of reading romance and so she hid the books away? Romance novels were hugely popular at that time and with her group of friends but perhaps they were made to feel inferior in the way that some people still look down on romance today.  Or perhaps it does come back to the sex and the swearing. Knowing that she had a curious and avid reader for a granddaughter maybe she wanted to hide the books away from me! However, finding them in the wardrobe with all those lovely clothes and the perfume and the jewellery just made me see romance books as impossibly exotic and glamorous, exciting, an escape from real life. I guess I still see them that way today.

Does spring prompt you to sort out your cupboards too? Are you prepared to share the secrets of your wardrobe or closet?  Are there books lurking on the shelves, or other things hidden away? 

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Things you never knew about bank notes.

I'm currently writing the third in my Victorian saga, The Nightingale Chronicles, Better Bend Than Break, and wanted to know some details about banknotes in the 1840s. My male protagonist needed to receive a considerable amount in exchange for the deeds of his property and could hardly march off with a large bag of gold.
This led to discovering things about our currency that I'd not known before and thought I would share them with you.
I did know, and I'm sure most of you do, that the first use of paper money was in China in the seventh century but paper money wasn't used in Europe until a thousand years later.
Goldsmith-bankers accepted deposits, made loans and transferred funds but they also gave paper receipts for cash (gold coins) that had been deposited with them. These pieces of paper were known as "running cash notes" and were made out in the name of the depositor and promised to pay him on demand. Some also carried the crucial words "or bearer". This was the beginning of paper money. This was in the 1500s.
In 1694 the Bank of England was set up to raise money for King William's war against France. The bank issued notes with the promise to pay the bearer the sum of the note on demand. This meant that the note could be handed in to the bank for gold or coinage by anyone who owned it. Strangely if it wasn't redeemed for the full amount it was endorsed and altered to show how much had actually been withdrawn.
These were initially handwritten on blank paper and signed by one of the bank's cashiers. In 1696 the there was no longer any need for small denomination notes and only notes for sums over £50 were issued. As few people made
more than £20 a year most people never saw banknotes.
In the 18th century banks started issuing lower denomination notes. These notes only had the £ sign and were partially printed and were completed by the bank cashier. The numerals, the name of the payee and the cashier's signature plus the date and the number were added at the time of issue. They could be for uneven amounts, but most were round sums. By the middle of the century notes were being printed ranging from £20 -£1000.
By the end of the 1700s, because of the gold shortage caused by the Seven Years War, both £10 and £5 pounds notes were issued. The bank was also forced to stop exchanging actual gold in return for the notes because of the expense of the wars.
This was when the playwright and MP, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, referred to the bank as "an elderly lady in the city". This was changed by cartoonist, James Gillray, to "the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street," and that name has been in use ever since.
The first notes that didn't need any handwritten additions by the chief cashier were issued in 1853.
The name of the chief cashier as the payee on notes changed in favour of the anonymous quote I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of..." This has remained the same until today. Printed signature continue to be one of three cashiers until in 1870 it has always been that of the Chief Cashier.
The Bank of England was not always the sole issuer of banknotes in England and Wales. Many provincial bankers – the so-called country bankers – who were either individuals or small family concerns – continued to issue banknotes. The Country Bankers Act of 1826 made this practice legal if there were more than six partners in the bank and the bank was not situated less than 65 miles from London. The act also allowed the Bank of England to open branches in major provincial cities which gave it more outlets for its notes.
in 1833 notes were made legal tender for all sums above £5  in England and Wales. This was done so that in  the event of a national crisis Joe Public would be willing to accept paper money and  gold reserves could be kept intact. In 1844 the Bank Charter Act gave the Bank of England the monopoly of note making in England and Wales. The last private banknotes in England and Wales were issued by  a Somerset bank, Fox and Co in 1921.
And today we have the nasty little  plastic £5 note. I can remember, just, when a five pound note was a large white note and look what we have now!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Jane Austen: Travel in 'Persuasion'

This post looks at the importance of journeys for Jane Austen’s heroines, and, in particular, Anne Elliot, the twenty-seven-year old heroine of Persuasion. She is the middle daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, ‘a foolish, spendthrift baronet’, who has spent her entire life, apart from a few years at school in Bath, at Kellynch Hall, the family home in Somerset. Her elder sister, Elizabeth, her father’s favourite, goes to London with him every year for the Season, to see and be seen, but Anne is never invited.

Promenade dress 1809

Her position is unenviable. ‘Anne, with an elegance of mind and sweetness of character, which must have placed her high with any people of real understanding, was nobody with either father or sister; her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way – she was only Anne.’
The only people she sees are her much-loved god-mother Lady Russell, who lives at Kellynch Lodge nearby, and her whiny younger sister Mary Musgrove at Uppercross Cottage, three miles away. It must be a desperately lonely life.
Sir Walter is deeply in debt, so he lets Kellynch Hall and moves to Bath, a place Anne dislikes. It’s arranged that Anne will stay with Mary, who isn’t feeling well, until Lady Russell can take her to Bath after Christmas. ‘I cannot possibly do without Anne,’ was Mary’s reasoning; and Elizabeth’s reply was, ‘Then I’m sure Anne had better stay, for nobody will want her in Bath.’


Young lady at a cabinet forte piano, 1808
Anne’s first journey is a very short one: from Kellynch Hall to Uppercross Cottage, it’s only three miles but it is significant. The first thing that strikes her is that ‘a removal from one set of people to another, though at a distance of only three miles, will often include a total change of conversation, opinion and idea.’  Nobody at Uppercross cares that Kellynch Hall has now been let to Admiral Croft and his wife; the Musgroves are fully occupied with their own concerns.
Still, it’s an improvement. Anne is wanted and useful; her piano playing is appreciated if the Musgrove daughters want to dance, and she’s fond of her two little nephews. She’s among people she likes and who like her, which makes a change.
Enter the hero, Captain Frederick Wentworth. Eight years earlier, he had met Anne and they had fallen in love and been briefly engaged. But he had no fortune and Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break off the engagement. Anne’s subsequent loneliness has also included heartbreak. Now he’s back, staying with his brother-in-law, Admiral Croft, at Kellynch Hall.


A gentleman politely drew back

Nobody at Uppercross knows about Anne’s engagement. Mary was at school then; Frederick has not told the Crofts, and Anne’s father and sister are now in Bath. Is there a chance for Captain Wentworth and Anne to get back together? Probably not. The captain is taking an open interest in the Musgrove daughters, the spirited Louisa and her quieter sister, Henrietta.
Captain Wentworth has a friend in Lyme, Captain Harville, and makes a lightning visit to see him. He speaks of going again and ‘the young people were all wild to see Lyme’, so a visit is arranged. Lyme is seventeen miles away and it’s November; the days are short so they will stay the night. Anne is one of the party.
This second journey proves to be momentous for Anne. She learns a number of things. Meeting the Harvilles is a bitter-sweet pleasure: ‘These would have been my friends’, she thinks. She finds a ‘bewitching charm’ in their generous hospitality, so unlike the ‘dinners of formality and display’ she is used to.

Looking on her with a face as pale as her own
Then Captain Benwick, still in mourning for his fiancée, Fanny Harville, becomes interested in Anne. It has been a long time since Anne has enjoyed any masculine attention, and a further look of admiration from one of the inn’s guests, a look which Captain Wentworth notices, also raises her spirits. ‘She was looking remarkably well; her very regular, very pretty features having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion.’
Then comes a near tragedy. The wilful Louisa insists on being jumped down from the stairs on the Cobb so that Captain Wentworth can catch her. She mistimes her jump and lands on the pavement below and is taken up for dead. No-one seems to know what to do, except for Anne. She thrusts her smelling salts into Captain Benwick’s hands and tells him to help Captain Wentworth, who is holding Louisa.
She then suggests getting a surgeon and, when Captain Wentworth is about to rush off himself, adds, ‘Would it not be better for Captain Benwick? He knows where a surgeon is to be found.’

Obliged to touch him before she could catch his notice
Anne shows what she is made off. She doesn’t lose her head; her suggestions are practical and effective; and the men instinctively do as she bids. Back home at Kellynch Hall, ‘her word had no weight’; here, her intelligence is valued.
She does not yet know it, but it’s a turning point for Captain Wentworth. Before, he had been angry and resentful at her breaking off their engagement; now he begins to do her justice. When Captain Wentworth, Henrietta and Anne return to Uppercross in the carriage, he talks to Anne about what to do, and asks her approval of what he suggests. 
It’s a precious moment for Anne: ‘the remembrance of the appeal remained a pleasure to her – as a proof of friendship, and of deference for her judgement, a great pleasure; and when it became a sort of parting proof, its value did not lessen.’  
Captain Wentworth returns straight to Lyme and Anne must agonize a while yet.
In another moment they walked off

Anne makes another small journey, this time to Lady Russell’s in preparation for going to Bath, and notices that her inner mental landscape has changed. She now has little interest in her father’s new home in Camden Place; all she thinks about is Louisa, the friendship with the Harvilles and Captain Benwick, and, of course, Captain Wentworth. Even paying a call on the Crofts at Kellynch Hall does not give her a pang as it does Lady Russell.

Anne’s journey to Bath in Lady Russell’s carriage is passed over in a sentence but, it, too, signifies change to come.

Turning briefly to Captain Wentworth, it’s interesting to note just how many journeys he makes in Persuasion. Travelling was much easier for men at the time; they could go where they wanted when they wanted. He begins by coming to Kellynch Hall to stay with his sister, Mrs Croft. Jane Austen doesn’t mention it, but we note the irony of him staying at Kellynch Hall, the very place from which, eight years previously, Sir Walter would probably have thrown him out.  

Placed it before Anne

He pays a lightning visit to the Harvilles – there and back in a day - and, later, joins the Uppercross party to Lyme. After accompanying Anne and Henrietta back to Uppercross, he then sets out again for Lyme.

Anne assumes that he is returning to be with Louisa, but, in fact, he goes straight up to Shropshire to see his newly-married brother, Edward. He hopes to weaken Louisa’s interest in him; he draws out his visit until he’s rescued by the news of her engagement to Captain Benwick. Then he hot-foots it to Bath.
Anne herself is not the same person as she was at the beginning of the book. She has re-met Captain Wentworth, whom she still loves and her very real help in Lyme has deepened her relationship with the Musgroves. Now, she allows herself to be more independent. She ignores her father’s disapproval and visits her poverty-stricken and ill school friend, Mrs Smith. It is through Mrs Smith that she learns the true character of Sir Walter’s heir, Mr Elliot. And she resists Lady Russell’s attempts to persuade her to look favourably on Mr Elliot’s suit.  


The mistress of a very pretty landaulette
Although she is living with her father and Elizabeth, she joins in their socializing as little as possible. Mentally, she has already left them. She’s delighted to see the Crofts who have come to Bath for the Admiral’s health. When the Musgroves arrive, she joins them at the White Hart as much as she can. And, when Captain Wentworth appears, she does her best to speak to him and to avoid Mr Elliot.

And, if proof were needed of the importance of independent travel for women as well as men, we learn that Captain Wentworth buys his wife ‘a very pretty landaulette’. It’s a lovely touch. I rest my case.

Illustrations by Hugh Thomson

Elizabeth Hawksley

A companion piece to this post: Jane Austen: Travel in 'Northanger Abbey' is up in








Monday, February 13, 2017

Maybe Tomorrow

This month marks the release of my first timeslip novel. If I’d known they were such fun to write, I’d have written one a long time ago!
I was asked to write the story as part of the Enchanted Keepsake collection. There are some fabulous books here, and they all have the same theme. That a woman is condemned to travel through time, bringing happiness to others but never finding it herself.
In my contribution an American visitor to London finds a miniature portrait in a junk shop, and is rocketed back in time to the Regency. She meets Avery, Lord Northcote, the man in the picture. The person who sold her the miniature told her she had a return ticket. Once was all she had.But when disaster strikes she has a terrible decision to make.A few years ago I took a trip down the Thames to Hampton Court. I had a lovely day and enjoyed it very much. I never realized I’d be writing about it! And that is why I keep a diary. I dug up my account of the trip and recreated it for Tabby, and then, later in the story I show how the scenery has changed in two hundred years. It was an absolute treat to write and a great challenge.During the trip I saw a house I thought was absolutely lovely. It’s one of those Thames-side villas that
the fashionable of the Regency had built for weekend getaways (although they didn’t call it the weekend then!) and naughtier pleasures. During my research I found the perfect house, Marble Hill House, the residence of George II’s mistress, Henrietta Howard. It’s a gem of a house and although built a couple of generations before the Regency, I chose it because it’s lovely. It has a slightly racy history, but Henrietta held parties and received some of the most important people of the age. Ladies of society, of course, wouldn’t go there, but Henrietta was a woman of taste and refinement, encouraging poets, artists and other literary figures.
Describing houses then and now was a challenge and huge fun. I wanted to bring the London of yesteryear and today to life, to try to show how it might have changed—and how it stayed the same.Maybe I’ll write more timeslips!

Maybe Tomorrow

Two hearts beat as one - two hundred years apart!

Tabitha Simpson is on her honeymoon alone, after her fiancé cheated on her. In London she finds a tiny shop, where she buys a miniature portrait. The man in the picture calls to her, as if she already knows him. When she finds the full-size painting, magic happens, and she is transported back in time to 1816.

Avery is the Earl of Northcote, expected to marry and provide an heir. But when he finds Tabby on the sofa of his Thames villa, he is smitten. He doesn’t want anybody else. He will defy everybody and everything to have her.
But some things can’t be defied.

Tabby and Avery are madly in love, but they can’t stay together. Their lives are two hundred years apart.
When Tabby goes home, she knows she can’t return. Avery must spend the rest of his life without her, or find a way to join the woman he loves.

Buy the book here:
Amazon US Amazon UK Apple iTunes | Kobo | Barnes and Noble
Available in ebook or paperback.

Read the first chapter here

Thursday, February 09, 2017

How important is it to write a series rather than a stand-alone title?

I'm delighted to tell you that the third book in my bestselling series about the Duke of Silchester, "The Duke's Alliance", and his five siblings is now available on preorder. I'm writing two a year and the fourth one will be published the end of the summer. I can't wait to get onto the duke's story – although he does feature in every book.
This is the second Regency series I've done – the first was the three book 'At Pemberley' series of Jane Austen variations. Although I enjoyed writing these I was glad to write the final one as using somebody else's characters somewhat stifles the creative impulses.
Currently I'm writing the third book in the Victorian saga, "The Nightingale Chronicles", and there will be a fourth next year.
 I've also written the first book in a World War II series, "Ellen's War", Blue Skies & Tiger Moths, which is going to follow the life of a woman ferry pilot in the ATA. This will be launched in April. I'm very excited about this particular book as there aren't many fictional stories about these brave women.
I've written a stand-alone Regency which has yet to be published, and will write a Christmas themed Regency – but these will be the only stand-alone titles I do this year.
Series seem to do so much better than individual titles at the moment – I certainly enjoy reading about the same character in Bernard Cornwell and Christian Cameron's  brilliant series – so I suppose I'm not the only one.
This book is available as a pre order at the moment and will be released on 23rd  February.
Here is the blurb:

£1.99 /$2.99
Release day 23rd February
An Unconventional Bride is the third in The Duke's Alliance series. 
Mrs Mary Williams, a colonel's widow, arrives at Silchester Court with Miss Elizabeth Freemantle, who has been brought up as her sister. Beth is the Duke of Silchester's cousin and he is her guardian. 
Lord Aubrey, the duke's youngest brother, finds himself designated to oversee the London debut of both Lady Giselle, his sister, and his lively cousin, Beth, as the duke is called away to his estates in the North.
Although Mary is only four years older than Aubrey she is more worldly and well-travelled. Mary is not thinking of marrying a second time, she values her independence too much, and certainly not to a young gentleman like Lord Aubrey. 
Only when her reputation is lost, and marriage to Aubrey is impossible, does she understand that her feelings have changed.
Is it too late for them to find happiness together? Will the duke allow her to be part of his prestigious family?


Fenela J Miller

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Jane Austen: The Tyrannical General Tilney

General Tilney is surely one of the most unpleasant characters Jane Austen ever created. He’s greedy, hypocritical and a bully. Yet is it through him that the naïve eighteen-year-old Catherine Morland, heroine of 'Northanger Abbey' learns some important lessons about human nature.


When Catherine Morland first sees him in the Assembly Rooms she is standing beside Henry Tilney – a man she has recently met and finds very attractive. She notices that she is being ‘earnestly regarded by a gentleman…immediately behind her. He was a very handsome man, of a commanding aspect, past the bloom, but not past the vigour, of life.’  He learns forward and whispers something to Mr Tilney.

Catherine is embarrassed by the gentleman whispering. Is there something wrong with her appearance? Then Henry says: ‘That gentleman knows your name and you have a right to know his. It is General Tilney, my father.’  


It the first time that General Tilney’s attentions make Catherine feel uncomfortable, but it won’t be the last. What she doesn’t know is that the obnoxious John Thorpe, the brother of her friend Isabella, has been telling the General lies about her: that she has a dowry of between £15-20,000, and she is the heiress of the wealthy Allens, whose guest she is.

The General is immediately determined that Catherine will marry his younger son, the Reverend Henry Tilney. He invites Catherine to stay with them at Northanger Abbey.


His invitation (he goes on for twenty-three lines) is a mixture of boasting and fulsome flattery. He tries to impress her with name-dropping; he had hoped to see ‘the Marquess of Longtown and General Courteney, some of my very old friends here’ and then asks her if she could ‘be prevailed upon to quit this scene of public triumph, and oblige your friend Eleanor (his daughter) with your company in Gloucestershire.’ He ends, with hypocritical modesty:  his ‘mode of living is plain and unpretending; yet no endeavour shall be wanting on our side to make Northanger Abbey not wholly disagreeable.’  


His use of litotes (‘not wholly disagreeable’) is ironic, and makes it clear that, in fact, he rates the attractions of Northanger Abbey very highly. The whole speech is way over the top and, not unnaturally, Catherine is overwhelmed. ‘To receive so flattering an invitation! To have her company so warmly solicited!’  She takes it all at face value.

But, even as the carriage sets off for Northanger Abbey, Catherine begins to feel uneasy about his constant attention. Is she comfortable? He stops for lunch at an inn and bullies the waiters with impossible demands. He’s very fussy about his food and the ‘short’ stop takes over two hours. What would Catherine like to eat? He fears that he’s offered her nothing to her taste, when she’s never seen such a variety of food in her life before. In any case, they had a substantial breakfast before they set out and she’s not hungry. He makes ‘it impossible for her to forget for a moment that she is a visitor’.


The truth is that the general is a bully who manipulates Catherine into praising everything she sees, whether she likes it or not. Jane Austen leaves us in no doubt that General Tilney fails as a host because he’s not interested in his guest’s comfort. He only wants to hear praise of himself and his possessions.  

It gets worse once they reach Northanger Abbey. Catherine, whose passion is reading Gothic novels, is longing to see the ancient parts of the abbey but the General, having offered her a choice of seeing the house or grounds, says: ‘Yes, he could certainly read in Miss Morland’s eyes a judicious desire of making use of the present smiling weather. But when did she judge amiss? The Abbey would always be safe and dry.’ He has manipulated her into doing what he wants.


Poor Catherine! ‘She was all impatience to see the house, and had scarcely any curiosity to see the grounds.’ She ‘put on her bonnet in patient discontent.’  (A phrase which perfectly describes Catherine's feelings) The tour is a nightmare. The General hopes to learn that the Allens’ estate is inferior to his own. All Catherine can say of what she’s shown: ‘It was very noble – very grand – very charming!’ over and over again. General Tilney supplies his own praise. 

One of the lessons Catherine must learn, both with regard to her friend Isabella and with General Tilney is that people can say one thing but mean something quite different. She has already been confused by Isabella falling in love with her brother James, becoming engaged to him, and then encouraging the attentions of Frederick Tilney, Henry’s older brother (a far better marriage prospect). Duplicity isn’t in Catherine’s nature and she doesn’t understand why people behave dishonestly.


When the General arranges for them to visit Henry’s home at Woodston Parsonage, he insists: ‘You are not to put yourself at all out of your way. Whatever you may happen to have in the house will be enough. I think I can answer for the young ladies making allowance for a bachelor’s table.’

Catherine believes him. But Henry knows better, and leaves Northanger Abbey early in order to prepare a suitably elaborate meal.

Catherine exclaims: ‘But how can you think of such a thing after what the General said? When he so particularly desired you not to give yourself any trouble, because anything would do.’

Henry smiles but still leaves early for Woodston.


After Henry has gone Catherine finds herself pondering on the General’s inexplicability: That he was very particular in his eating, she had, by her own unassisted observation, already discovered; but why he should say one thing so positively; and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? 

What is interesting here is that, for the first time, Catherine is discovering things ‘by her own unassisted observation’. Not only has she has stopped taking everybody on trust - Isabella has been using both James and herself – she has stopped living in her Gothic fantasy world; General Tilney has neither incarcerated his wife nor murdered her. And both of them alter the truth to suit themselves.

Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen. National Portrait Gallery.

Catherine is beginning to judge people for herself; and she is shortly going to need her new-found emotional intelligence. And, I would argue, the obnoxious General Tilney is, perhaps, the most important instrument of her maturation.

Photos of Powis Castle, Dunham Massey and Lyme Park standing in for Northanger Abbey taken by Elizabeth Hawksley 

Elizabeth Hawksley.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Perfect Regency?

Ten years ago, I wrote this post with the help of several authors, notably the late, great, Jo Beverley, whose sense of humour was pretty wicked!
So here are the ingredients for your perfect Regency romance. Let's see what you choose! I'm delighted to say that I have broken the rules numerous times over the years. You can make it more interesting by rolling a die to choose! And please, don't take this one too seriously.

Writing a Regency Romance (excluding Scottish romances)
Choose one of the following in each section.

The hero is:
1. A rake about town
2. An army officer (captain or above, please, no lieutenants)
3. A widower with small children
4. A pirate duke (marquis or earl will do at a pinch)
5. A spy who is also a peer of the realm

The hero is never:
1. Geeky, spotty or bald.
2. overweight
3. Reasonably cautious and sensible.
4. Shorter than the heroine.
5. If he wears spectacles, he isn’t dependent on them and can lose them at convenient times without any ill effects.

The heroine is:
1. A clever, beautiful ingénue
2. A bookworm not interested in society or husband hunting
3. An older spinster looking for a husband for her beautiful younger sister
4. A governess or housekeeper, usually the daughter of a peer fallen on hard times
5. A young girl forced to wear a male disguise and work as a secretary/groom or something similar.
6. A young American heiress, despising English society.
7. A highwayman/urchin/thief by night, a respectable member of society by day.
8. A young woman fighting to save her family from financial ruin, caused by the gambling habit of her brother or father, or even both.

The heroine is never:
1. A respectable young woman with a good fortune looking for a future husband.
2. A war widow, who has lost her husband in the Napoleonic wars and has now returned to society. Widows are Sad, so they can't be heroines.
3. The daughter of a City gentleman, looking to increase her social standing. This is Bad because it makes her look mercenary.
4. Less than stunningly beautiful, clever and accomplished, even if she tries to hide these facts at the start of the story.

They meet:
1. In a country inn, where they get snowed in.
2. In a ballroom, where she hates him on sight.
3. At the gates of a country house, where she mistakes him for the gardener or he mistakes her for a maid.
4. On the road, he in his phaeton, she in her travelling carriage.
5. At the altar.
6. In a gaming hell where she is the stake.
7. At a secluded lake where the heroine or hero is taking an impromptu bath.

They never meet:
1. By being introduced by their parents, who want to see if they would like to make a match of it.
2. By politely promenading in the park at the fashionable hour.
3. They have always known each other, because society is small, and they are, in fact, distantly related.

1. Hate each other on sight, but are filled with lustful thoughts
2. He loves her, she hates him.
3. She loves him, he hates her.

They never;
1. Take a liking to each other without it being accompanied by lustful thoughts.

Note: 2 and 3 must be accompanied by a Big Misunderstanding. They must always fancy each other’s pants off on sight, or It Isn’t A Romance.

The first time they make love is:
1. In the marriage bed (boring unless they met for the first time at the altar)
2. In a small antechamber set conveniently close to a ballroom
3. In a summerhouse
4. In a small cottage where they’ve taken refuge from the storm
5. In his library where she has gone in the middle of the night, barefoot, in search of a book to read. He is already there in his shirtsleeves, drinking.

The villain:
Choose one or two of the following:
1. The hero’s brother who wants the title. He is usually handsome, etc, but not as handsome etc as the hero.
2. The hero’s ex mistress (see below)
3. The heroine’s father. He is usually a gambler who has lost the family fortune and now wants to sell the heroine in a card game.
4. A man who wants the heroine, but isn’t prepared to marry her. He may abduct her, take her to Gretna, etc. to achieve his wicked end. He will not rape her, though it is usually a near thing. He often seems to be a pleasant character.

Secondary characters:
1. The hero’s best friend. Usually another peer, with a set of problems of his own. He will get his own story later. Repeat as necessary to create a series.
2. The heroine’s sister. She provides plot problems, adds comments, and is there because she’ll get her book later.
3. The heroine’s closest friends. See heroine’s sister.
4. The hero’s ex mistress. Jealous, experienced, may be the villain. When she is not, she is always jealous of the heroine, and she plots against her.

You may pick as many of the following as you wish, to give color to your story:
1. An urchin, cheeky but very poor, a boon companion of the hero or heroine. This may be actually the heroine in disguise.
2. An old retainer, a maid who used to be the heroine’s nurse. She is referred to by her Christian name and magically has all the skills required of a good lady’s maid.
3. A valet. He may be either scoundrelly and talk with Dick Van Dyke Mockney, or superior, and talk like Jeeves.
4. A butler. Superior, tall, talks like Jeeves, or short and fat and an old retainer who knows all the family by their first names, prefaced by “Miss” or “Master.”
5. A Bow Street Runner, usually less intelligent than the hero or heroine. Always on the side of good, he is upright and honest (unlike the usual run of BSR’s in RL)
6. An old man, who the heroine is required to marry to restore the family fortunes.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Have I lost my sparkle? (UK)  (US)
I am starting 2017 with a re-edited recycled book. Search For A Duke was once published by Robert Hale as A Suitable Husband. This was the second book I wrote for them way back in 2006 but I well remember Mr John Hale telling me, ' I love the sparkle in this story.''
I still love writing but I fear after 60+ books over the past eleven years my sparkle might be somewhat dimmed. I don't jump out of bed and rush to my study so I can continue with whatever book I'm working on. I am a writer - it's something that I have to do - but I don't think it's possible to maintain the same amount of  'sparkle' that all new writers bring to their book.
By improving my skills, learning my craft, I am now, like all professionals, producing a well-constructed book. Sometimes, I think knowing the things we shouldn't do, restricts us; new writers still have that wonderful freedom to express themselves.
I shall never forget the excitement of holding my first book in my hands. Now I publish and move on - write five or six new titles a year - and only when a reader contacts me to say how much they loved a title do I stop and think how wonderful it is to be a writer and how lucky I am.
Strangely, the harder I work the luckier I get.
Here is a short extract from Search For A Duke introducing the hero:

Up to that point Oliver Mayhew had seen and dismissed Sarah as a woman of medium height, reasonable figure, and ordinary features. He had already decided to refuse the job when it was offered; there was nothing to interest him at Rowley Court. This had been a wasted journey.
Then her smile transformed her face from commonplace to breath taking. Her eyes were an extraordinary mix of emerald green and darkest brown and he fell into their intriguing depths. He swallowed, twice, and forced his limbs to untense, angry such an experienced man as he had allowed himself to be floored by a pair of what had to be the finest eyes in England.
'Are you feeling quite well, Captain Mayhew? You have gone pale. I will order some refreshments. I expect you are fatigued after your long journey.' She stood up and pulled the bell-strap. Her actions allowed him time to recover.
'Thank you, ma'am, that would be most kind.' He hid his amusement well. Had she forgotten he was a veteran of the Peninsular? The thirty-five miles from town was a mere bagatelle.
She ordered a cold collation to be prepared and served immediately in the small dining room. She resumed her seat, and folded her hands tightly around her list, smiled again and Oliver swallowed again.

Fenella J Miller

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Another Mystery Portrait!

My new timeslip, The Phantom Tree, was published last week and it’s so exciting to see it in the shops! This time I’m travelling between the present and the Tudor era, visiting Wolf Hall in mysterious Savernake Forest, and Littlecote Hall near Hungerford (thinly disguised as Middlecote in the book!) I blogged about the Wiltshire background to the book last month but this time I wanted to share with you the picture that started it all...

I was visiting family and saw this gorgeous picture on the wall of a woman in Tudor dress. I found it totally beguiling. She has a hint of a smile on her face as though she knows a secret, and there is a pearl missing from her hood… On the back of the picture it says it is a portrait of Anne Boleyn, one I’d never seen before. It also had another inscription in Latin. I found this totally intriguing and would love to know the history and provenance of the picture. The art dealer who sold it apparently suggested that it was a 19th century copy of a Tudor portrait. I need to find an art historian who can help discover the true story behind the picture!

However, Anne Boleyn or not, my writer’s imagination got going and I started to speculate on how
interesting it would be if it were not actually Anne but some other, lesser-known Tudor woman. I’d always been interested in Mary Seymour, Katherine Parr’s daughter, and thought it odd that no one knew what had happened to her. Such a high-born child simply to disappear…  I thought how fascinating it would be if the portrait were in fact a clue to Mary’s fate and so the idea for The Phantom Tree was born.

I love the way that so many different things can spark a story idea and then the idea grows and develops in unexpected directions. I’ve always loved timeslip stories and dual time books where a historical mystery is solved in the present but although the mystery of Mary’s disappearance is solved (fictionally) in The Phantom Tree I’m wondering if I can solve the case of the mystery portrait!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Why I love 'The Quiet Gentleman'

There is a school of thought which sees The Quiet Gentleman as a sort of unsatisfactory Sense and Sensibility, with Marianne Bolderwood as a more thinly drawn Marianne Dashwood, and Drusilla as a pale variation of the sensible Elinor Dashwood. One critic complained that the hero Gervase Frant, Earl of St Erth’s courtship of Drusilla Morville is almost non-existent. 

I don’t agree. I have always enjoyed the subtle steps by which Georgette Heyer indicates Gervase’s growing interest in Drusilla. To appreciate this, you need to attune your ear to the ironic – and irony is something Heyer does supremely well. Drusilla is not your usual Regency heroine. She is not particularly pretty, she employs no arts to attract, and her conversation is prosaic. We know that; ‘the Earl thought her dull.’

The Quiet Gentleman, original cover, courtesy of Wikipedia

However, he does notice that ‘she was dressed with propriety and even a certain quiet elegance’ and that, ‘Her countenance was pleasing without being beautiful, her best feature being a pair of dark eyes, well-opened and straight-gazing.’

Their relationship consists of a series of small encounters, each adding to Gervase’s knowledge of her character and his gradual discovery of the qualities he needs in a wife. Their first conversation is not propitious. Drusilla says that she has been looking for him and the Earl’s response is decidedly cool. He raises his brows and says, ‘In what way may I serve you, Miss Morville?’

It is meant as a put down but Drusilla is not fazed. She replies that she is only concerned to serve the Dowager, and adds that she can see that he thinks she is guilty of presumption.

She has wrong-footed him and the earl reddens. It is the only time in the book where Gervase is put out of countenance; somehow she has got to him. When she adds, ‘I should have explained that I have no very great opinion of Earls’, her father is a Philosophical Historian writing a History of the French Revolution from a Republican point of view, we can see that his interest is caught.

She tells him about her background (her parents are intellectuals with advanced notions of women’s rights) and he is amused. She then persuades him to allow the huge epergne on the dining table, which Gervase had ordered to be put away in a dark cupboard, to be displayed on a Buhl table in the window embrasure instead. As the Earl ruefully says later to his cousin, ‘I have let the wretched chit talk me into permitting the continuing existence of that abominable epergne in my dining-room!’     

Somehow, Drusilla has negotiated a domestic compromise, stood up for herself, and amused him with her down to earth remarks. He learns that she is well-used to society (she stays with her Morville relations for the Season) and, later, his step-mother remarks that, ‘the Morvilles must be supposed to rank amongst those of the best blood in the country’ in spite of their shocking Republican views. In other words, (though this is far from his thoughts at the moment) marrying Drusilla would not be a misalliance.

Alert readers will notice the care with which Georgette Heyer lays her ground; Gervase is not yet interested in Drusilla but he no longer thinks she’s negligible.  

Later, he discovers that it is largely Drusilla who has organized the ball. She tells him that she enjoys it and she’s obviously good at it. We realize that Heyer has given her another tick; Drusilla would make a good chatelaine.

Heyer allows Drusilla to be seen at her best at the ball wearing a gown in soft pink under a figured-lace robe which suits her (and it’s obviously not cheap). She has diamond drops in her ears, holds an antique fan and wears ‘a pair of very long French gloves of a delicate shade of pink which instantly awoke Marianne’s envy.’ She is, clearly, no dowd.

When Gervase, being polite, asks Drusilla to dance the waltz, ‘she surprised him by proving herself to be an experience dancer, very light on her feet…’  He asks her for another dance and makes it clear that this is what he wants; ‘I consider myself now at liberty to please myself.’  Dancing involves physical contact and subconsciously the Earl surely notes that their steps match.

There is a significant moment about half-way through the book when Gervase’s horse throws him and Drusilla discovers that someone pulled a rope stretched across the path to bring him down. They discuss the implications and what line they should take. Gervase says, ‘I have a great dependence on your discretion, Miss Morville. We shall say, if you please, that I was so heedless as to let Cloud set his foot in a rabbit hole.’

Note that significant ‘we’. A few moments later, Gervase, Drusilla, and his friend Lord Ulverston are in a curricle driving back to the castle. Gervase puts his arm along the back of the curricle to give Drusilla a bit more room. I don’t know what you think, but I can’t help thinking that Drusilla would have felt Gervase’s arm behind her, even though it wasn’t touching her; and he would have been fully conscious of what he was doing.

I love Drusilla’s prosaic remarks; they make me laugh. It’s obvious to the reader (though not to Drusilla) that Gervase enjoys them, too. One of my favourites is her comment about the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: ‘Mama has always maintained that most of the trouble arose from Miss Wollstonecraft’s determination to make him (her lover, Gilbert Imlay) an elm tree round which she might throw her tendrils. Very few gentlemen could, I believe, support for long so arduous a role.’

The Earl says, ‘I find myself, as always, in entire agreement with you, Miss Morville,’ he said, gravely.’ And we cannot doubt the irony here, the word ‘gravely’ gives it away; he obviously enjoys it as much as the reader does.

When Drusilla comes to visit him after a second, more serious attack, where Gervase is shot, the Earl smiles at her and stretches out his right hand ‘in an unconsciously welcoming gesture.’  

Drusilla looks at it and doesn’t move. When she does speak it is in ‘her most expressionless voice.’  It is obvious that Drusilla at least is well aware of her feelings for Gervase. Gradually, as the plot thickens, the wounded Gervase and Drusilla are thrown together and we notice that they now touch each other unselfconsciously: she takes his pulse, he grasps her wrist. He holds her hand and kisses it.

But Heyer cannot yet allow any words of love to be spoken. The villain is still at large and the plot needs to be wrapped up.

The final scene is delicious. Up to now Drusilla has been in control of her emotions but when Gervase kisses her, she bursts into tears and, for the first time, allows her own insecurities to show. I cannot resist quoting here:

‘Oh no! Pray do not! You felt obliged to comfort me! I assure you, I don’t regard it – shall never think of it again!’

   ‘My poor dear, you must be very much shaken to say anything so foolish!’ said the Earl lovingly. ‘Never did I think to hear such nonsense on my sage counsellor’s lips!’

   ‘You would become disgusted with my odious common sense. Try as I will, I cannot be romantic!’ said Miss Morville despairingly.

   His eyes danced. ‘Oh, I forbid you to try. Your practical observations, my absurd robin, are the delight of my life!’

   Miss Morville looked at him. Then, with a deep sigh, she laid her hand in his. But what she said was: ‘You must mean a sparrow!’

   ‘I will not allow you to dictate to me, now or ever, Miss Morville. I mean a robin!’ said the Earl firmly, lifting her hand to his lips.

Georgette Heyer 1939 by Howard Coster

The critic who complained that the courtship between the Earl and Drusilla was negligible also complained that there was only one kiss. Well, there’s only one kiss between hero and heroine in Cotillion, The Grand Sophy and The Reluctant Widow, and many other Heyer novels. So what? For me, a long, anticipatory build up is just fine.

I like the fact that the reader has to be alert to the oblique signs of interest expressed by Gervase, and to Drusilla’s touching hidden emotional insecurity. The Quiet Gentleman is not an ‘in your face’ novel and, in my view, it’s all the better for that.

Photos: Cover of The Quiet Gentleman courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo: Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster
Other photos of Lyme Park and Chiswick House standing in for Stanyon Castle by Elizabeth Hawksley

Elizabeth Hawksley







Tuesday, January 03, 2017


HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope you all have a wonderful 2017, full of laughter and happiness and lots of lovely reading!  I am still in the holiday mood so I thought I'd kick off 2017 with a little bit of whimsy and share with you a few secrets about how I begin a new story.
Just before Christmas I finished writing my last Sarah Mallory novel, so I have had the festive break to mull over ideas for a brand new historical romance.  I really love this part of the process, when I have the writer's equivalent of a blank canvas, just waiting to be filled with daydreams and ideas.  This is the point where I indulge in a little armchair research, looking through magazines, books and images to decide on how my hero and heroine will look, where they will live and what they will do, etc.  Nothing is set in stone at this point, even the characters' names could change, but I thought you might enjoy coming on this little journey with me….

First of all there are the characters. I have a gentleman whose nickname is Russ. I decided he should be a Corinthian – a fashionable Regency sportsman.  Russ is also a dangerous rake. He is rich, possibly titled,  and is more used to fighting off women than chasing them.  I imagine him looking a bit like Rufus Sewell,…..


My heroine for this story is a young widow, Molly. She has had a tough time (but I am not going into that now, it would spoil the story) so she appears quite serious, although there is a spirited lady hidden beneath her sober appearance. There is a hint of this in the fact that she cannot quite control her unruly dark curls. So perhaps a mix of these two ladies.....

Then there is setting. Is it going to be an adventure story, set on a rugged coast,

perhaps a Gothic mystery with an old ruined castle….

No. this story is set in a village or small town, where one of the large local properties has just changed hands, and the new owner has brought a large party there for the hunting season.  So - I need to choose a house – something Palladian like Stourhead, perhaps,

or older,

My mind is tending towards something like this, Beningbrough, possibly because I think the story is going to be set in the north of England and this lovely property would suit very well.

And if we are in the north, then perhaps it will be winter, and my characters will have to travel through the snow…..
Or if it is summer, perhaps my characters might have reason to visit the ice house. In one of my books (Winter Inheritance) a villain shuts the heroine in an icehouse in an attempt to kill her, so I won’t be using that scenario, but I might have Molly and Russ meeting up there, and there is a lovely example at Stourhead.

Or, perhaps a trip to Harrogate, to take the waters (they would visit the Sulphur Well, which until 1842 was covered by this temple, which now sits over the Tewit Well)

and they might stay at the Queens Head, the fashionable coaching inn (which is still there, although it has had a change of name).

So you see what fun I can have without ever leaving my chair?  Of course there is a lot of research to be done when I get down to planning the story in more detail, but for now I can let my imagination wander as I decide on the people, places and scenes that I want to fit into this book.
At present, I have only written an opening scene, when Molly is dreaming. She is a child again,  hiding in a tree from her brother (who will never find her, because he does not believe girls can climb trees).  Now, some time ago I visited Ashbrittle, in Somerset and saw this beautiful ancient yew tree. It would make the perfect hiding place for Molly, so that is my inspiration for the first scene.

Now all I have to do is write the rest of the  book…..
Happy reading, everyone!

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

While you are waiting for the next Sarah Mallory novel, perhaps you might like to try The Wayward Miss Wyckenham. First published by Robert Hale as the Belles Dames Club, this is a sparkling Georgian romance, sure to cheer up a long winter evening!