Wednesday, November 15, 2017

RAF Slang in WW2

I have been fascinated by the terms used in the RAF during the war. I wonder how many of them you recognize and how many of them you actually understand the meaning of.
I have a wonderful little book entitled A Dictionary of RAF Slang by Eric Partridge - it was first published in 1945 by Joseph but this edition is by Pavilion Books, 1990.
Some of you might have used the term 'erk ' as in the phrase 'he's an erk' - meaning a bit of a nuisance.
It comes from  -air mechanic/ air mech/airmch/airch/erk.  I can't see how it evolved into this - but there you are. Sometimes incorrectly used as 'oik'
A plane is called a kite - it used to be, in WW1, a bus or a crate.
What about, 'He's gone for a Burton'. I always thought it was something to do with the men's outfitters. No - it's actual meaning is that someone has gone for a beer - Burton was a well known name for a pale ale. It was used to say someone had died.
We have 'to shoot down in flames' 'to shoot down from a great height' and 'to shoot a line'. All in common usage and all taken from RAF aerial warfare.
The first two mean  to defeat someone in an argument and the last to boast.
We use 'sprogs' for children today but it comes from RAF meaning a new recruit.
Here are a few  - see if you can guess what they refer to. Answers at the bottom of the page.
1. attaboy
2.the bishop
3. blood wagon
4.bus driver
5. daisy cutter
6. flap
7.fruit salad
8.genned up
9.hop the twig
10 jump on the binders
11.milk train
13.the pigs are up

Do you remember the Monty Python sketch with two RAF pilots? Miller and Armstrong did something similar too. One comes in and says:
'Top hole! Bally Jerry pranged his kite right in the how's your father. Hairy blighter, dickie birdied, feathered back on his Sammy, took a waspie....'
Sounds genuine - but is total gibberish . No one in the RAF talked exclusively in slang any more than we do today. They used just enough to separate them from those not part of the service.
This is second book in series - will be out in March next year.

Answers -but not in correct order- not going to make it too easy for you
an aerial battle/ the padre/barrage balloons/fully informed/ATA pilot/put on the brakes/died/major event/fighter escort/bomber pilot/medals/early morning patrol/squadron leader/ambulance/excellent landing
Fenella J Miller

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Jane Austen’s novels: by her contemporaries

I want to look at what three of Jane Austen’s contemporaries thought of her novels: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), the inventor of the historical novel, nick-named the ‘the Wizard of the North’ for his spell-binding stories; Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince Regent, who died in childbirth; and Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855), author of Jane Eyre. Miss Brontë was one year old when Jane Austen died. But she has some interesting things to say, so I’ve allowed her to remain.


Sir Walter Scott’s marble bust by Sir Francis Chantry, 1841, National Portrait Gallery

We are indebted to John Lockhart, Scott’s friend and biographer, for an insight into what that best-selling novelist had to say about Jane Austen. On March 14, 1826, Scott wrote: Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen’s very finely written novel of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!
What did he mean by ‘the Big Bow-wow strain’? The 10th Earl of Pembroke wrote of Dr Samuel Johnson (he of the famous Dictionary), ‘Dr Johnson’s sayings would not appear so extraordinary, were it not for his bow-wow way.’ I also came across another 18th century reference to the ‘bow-wow’ sound of trumpets and drums. So I think we can take it to mean ‘a touch bombastic’.


Scott wrote stirring tales of battles and deeds of derring-do, which was not Jane Austen’s style. But it’s good to know that Scott was a real fan and appreciated and admired her qualities.

As he wrote in his diary, on 18th September, 1827: Smoked my cigar with Lockhart after dinner, and then whiled away the evening over one of Miss Austen’s novels. There is a truth of painting in her writings which always delights me. They do not, it is true, get above the middle classes of society, but there she is inimitable.

The stone marking the site of Princess Charlotte’s mausoleum: 'My Charlotte is Gone', Prince Leopold

Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was another Austen fan. She enjoyed what she called ‘studdy’ (her spelling was erratic) and read widely, perhaps borrowing books from her father’s library at Carlton House – and we know that he bought Jane Austen’s novels. Or, perhaps it was a birthday present for her sixteenth birthday on January 6th. Whichever it was, on 22nd January, 1812, Princess Charlotte wrote to her friend, Miss Mercer Elphinstone: ‘Sence and Sencibility (sic) I have just finished reading; it certainly is interesting, and you feel quite one of the company. I think Maryanne and me are very like in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, etc., however remain very like. I must say it interested me very much.’  

It’s easy to sympathize with Charlotte’s identification with the passionate and impulsive seventeen-year-old Marianne, who is just the sort of character to appeal a lonely and romantic-minded girl, whose life, up to that point, had been pretty miserable. Perhaps Charlotte hoped that, like Marianne, she, too, would find love. Alas, her story ended tragically, for she died in childbirth aged only twenty-one.


Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond, chalk, 1850, National Portrait Gallery

Charlotte Brontë’s reaction to Jane Austen’s novels is very different.Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point,’ she wrote to the Victorian man of letters, George H. Lewes, who had been pushing them at her. ‘And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, high-cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.´
When I think of Elizabeth Bennet’s energetic walk to see her ill sister at Netherfield, ‘crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and spring over puddles, with impatient activity; and finding herself at last within view of the house with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise,’ I find myself wondering if we’re talking about the same author.
Charlotte has more complaints. ‘Anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works.’

Look at Marianne Dashwood’s reaction on getting Willoughby’s letter repudiating their relationship. ‘Misery such as mine has no pride, I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world… I must feel - must be wretched…’ Surely, Charlotte Brontë cannot interpret such a passionate outpouring as cool and unfeeling.
Later, Elinor notes that,‘No attitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body Marianne) moved from one posture to another, till, growing more and more hysterical, her sister could with difficulty keep her on the bed at all…’
Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen, stipple engraving, published 1870, National Portrait Gallery
And what about Anne Elliot, in Persuasion; mentally comparing her cousin Mr Elliot with Captain Wentworth? She thinks: ‘Mr Elliot was rational, discreet, polished, - but he was not open. There was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil of good of others. To Anne, this was a decided imperfection.’ Charlotte would surely have agreed. 
I fear that Charlotte was blinded by prejudice. Once she’d decided that Jane Austen’s novels were limited in their emotional range, she refused to look deeper. Austen’s novels  might have no mad wife in the attic, as Charlotte does in Jane Eyre, but don’t tell me that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or the unpleasant Mrs Norris, or General Tilney, weren’t quite as destructive of Elizabeth, Fanny or Catherine’s comfort in their own way.    

I rest my case.
Photos of Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, October 30, 2017

A lady’s sketch paintings reveal the realities of Regency life

Among my research books is a delightful book called Mrs Hurst Dancing, which is a collection of watercolours by one Diana Sperling, who lived at Dynes Hall near Halstead in Essex. This large country house along with its surroundings is the setting for the sketches she made between 1816 and 1823 where she lived with her parents, brothers and sister Isabella.

What I love about it is the insight it gives us to the reality of how people lived in those days. There are a great many outdoor scenes which show how the countryside must have looked then, and Diana has drawn her family and acquaintances riding, driving, walking, fishing, skating and a great many other activities, in all kinds of weather.

The sketches are often amusing, as well as telling, with people falling off their mounts – donkeys and horses both, carriages coming to grief, people falling into mud and streams, leaping ditches on horseback. The family might go to an evening party on foot, braving the mud and carrying their indoor shoes, or they would go divided among a single carriage and several horses. Even the ladies went on horseback to a party!

The title of the book comes from one sketch called Mrs Hurst Dancing, but almost all of the sketches have hand-written notes to say who the people are and what they are doing. Interestingly, Diana writes of her mother as “Mum” and her father as “Pappy”, but the Sperlings were local landowners and, as it says in the introduction, “might be said to belong to the ranks of the substantial gentry, the sort of well-to-do squires who dominated village affairs”. These families were “untitled but locally prominent”. They might originate as younger sons of greater families or spring from “cadet” branches of the aristocracy.

Leaving the outdoors for another day, I’ve chosen some indoor sketches that show unusual activities on the domestic front. They also depict the rooms as they must have been, fairly open and without much furniture. Rugs rather than carpets, and the pet dog and cat usually present.

Right at the top, we have the hilarious “Mrs Sperling murdering flies – assisted by her maid who received the dead and wounded. Dynes Hall.” I love the mirror and the looped curtains at the windows.

Here we have “Papering the saloon at Tickford Park, September 2nd 1816”. The Van Hagen family, who were relations, owned this house and Diana was clearly helping to paper the walls while on a visit.

Here we are again at the Van Hagens with “Mrs Van murdering a spider, September 10th 1816, Tickford.” The ladies are dressing when the spider interrupts the proceedings.

Finally, I could not resist putting in this one, with the splendid staircase and lovely balusters. But the action is wonderful.

“May 25th. Henry Van electrifying – Mrs Van, Diana, Harry, Isabella, Mum and HGS. Dynes Hall.” I gather the object was to turn the electrifying machine strongly enough for everyone who joined hands to get a shock! Fun for all, no doubt, though I suspect the sensation was a mild one.

Elizabeth Bailey

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Was The Season all it was cracked up to be?

When Georgette Heyer talked about “The Season,” she referred to the spring. In her books everyone lives in London for a few months every year, and then go to their country houses for the rest. As we’re discovering, the truth was very different. And what Heyer referred to as “The Little Season,” the months in the autumn before Christmas, didn’t exist at all, or rather, was never referred to as such.
The truth was a lot less defined and very different. It depended a lot on who you were and what you wanted.
The Season, the period between the end of Lent and the beginning of the summer, late June at the latest, was the time when young women made their “come out.” The word debutante only came in later in the Regency, so for most of the Georgian period, it’s not really appropriate. The young girls, sometimes as young as sixteen, but more often seventeen and eighteen, were brought to London to show them off, celebrate their young womanhood with lavish balls and parties, and with any luck, snag a husband.
But everybody knew everybody else. It wasn’t as if these women were “fired off” as total strangers. The networks had already introduced them. For instance Georgiana, who became the Duchess of Devonshire, was spoken for long before she had a chance to look around her. The dynastic arrangements were made, and she had to put up with it. She symbolized an alliance between two influential families, a bit like a company merger these days. A few young women made spectacular successes of their season, notably the three Gunning sisters. The two oldest made dazzling marriages, Maria becoming a duchess twice. She was the inspiration for my “Triple Countess” series, but I passed the stories on to her children, the products of her marriages to three very different earls.
The Gunnings, daughters of a family with noble blood, had worked briefly as actresses in a semi-professional theatre in Ireland, but they didn’t continue in England. Actresses were seen as little better than prostitutes, but the Gunnings’ part-amateur status and their astonishing beauty made them the talk of the town in 1751. Not satisfied with her natural beauty, Maria, who became the Countess of Coventry, died, it is said, of the lead and mercury based make up she used on her face. But before you condemn her, consider that botox is a deadly poison, and women have it injected into their faces all the time.
These exceptions apart, the parties and gaiety during the spring months drew people to London. But some avoided it. Anyone who didn’t want to meet the young women eager for a husband tended to avoid it, for instance!
The Georgian House of Commons

Many aristocrats came to London in the autumn, when the Parliamentary year began. The actual date varied from year to year, but it was usually at the beginning of November, or even late October. So London was pretty full just before Christmas, which was traditionally celebrated in the country. The pleasure-gardens and theatres weren’t always open, and other entertainments like Astley’s Amphitheatre weren’t open, either. However, the gentlemen’s clubs were open and so were the shops. This was a quieter time, but that’s only relative, but there are accounts of frantic activity at this time of year. It would tend to the more serious, since many attended Parliament. And the gentry from the countryside, Jane Austen’s people, would come up if they were Members of Parliament. The dining rooms, inns and clubs were full, but there weren’t as many balls and flashy affairs. That isn’t to say there were none. The older gilrs might fare better at this time of year.
After Christmas, some people returned to London. Some would prepare for the season ahead, order new clothes, hire a house, and others would return to  Parliament. Until recently the pattern Georgette Heyer described was adhered to, but it wasn’t at all that way. And the court had its own pattern again. Since the royal family mostly lived in London, their life and the life of the people around them tended to centre in London.
Everything stopped for Lent. Social parties were less frequent, and there weren’t any balls, or overt celebrations. During this period churches were unadorned with flowers or any other form of decoration. Lent ended at Easter, and after the church festivals, sometimes as soon as the Tuesday after Easter Sunday, the season really got going.
In June families would filter away to the country. In August the Glorious Twelfth marked the start of the hunting season, and then, in late October and November, Parliament started up again.
And so it goes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Richard Sharpe - the history behind his life.

 I came across a companion book for the Sharpe series written by Mark Adkin. I didn't know such a volume existed – it was published in 1998 when the Sharpe series was being written. I wish I had known about it when I first read these wonderful books by Bernard Cornwell.
It goes without saying that Cornwell's books are impeccably researched and when you read one, whatever era it is set in, you know the facts are correct.
Richard Sharpe, the hero of these books, was born in the slums of London and spent his life in the service of King and country.
It was rare for a man to be promoted from the ranks, but it did happen, and Cornwell had Sharpe save Wellington's life and so get his officers' stripes. From this point on an actual hero is followed by a fictional one. No rifleman served in the ranks of a redcoat regiment buSharpe and his men do because otherwise they could not take part in the battles and excitement of the war. The South Essex Regiment is fictional but the others mentioned are real. Cornwell himself states that he made Sharpe's unit dodge from brigade to brigade, division to division, all so they could be manoeuvred into maximum danger.
To be so historically accurate is quite remarkable considering there are seventeen books in the series.
Adkin's book is a fascinating read full of maps, pictures and diagrams and it is given me the enthusiasm to start reading the Sharpe series again, but this time with The Sharpe Companion open so I can follow the actual history at the same time as the fictional hero.
Richard Sharpe (I always visualise Sean Bean even though he was fair-haired and the real Sharpe had black hair.) was not just an exceptional soldier but also lucky one. At forty-two he had killed sixty-five men in close quarter combat. There were probably a hundred others killed in the mayhem of a battle. He was 6'1" tall and weighed about twelve stone. This was all bone and muscle. I have read all the Sharpe books at least once but can't remember ever reading this information – Adkin must have gleaned this from comments made about Sharpe by other characters.
Reading The Sharpe Companion is like reading the biography of a real person. Adkins talks about this fictional hero as if he actually did all the things in the books. Every page has a boxed text with facts that relate to the fiction which makes it a perfect read for anyone writing about the Peninsular War.
My work in progress is the fifth book in my series, The Duke's Alliance, and tells the story of Lord Peregrine Sheldon,  who is an intelligence officer in Wellington's army and goes missing behind enemy lines. The duke,  head of the family, goes in search of his missing younger brother.
I am engrossed in Adkin's book and have learnt so much that will be useful. I can highly recommend it even though it is almost 20 years since it was first published.
I have just finished writing the second book in my World War II series, Ellen's War, which follows Ellie from 1939 to 1945. In the first book she was a member of the WAAF but then joined the ATA. I've read every book I could find about the female ferry pilots and have tried to stick as closely as I could to actual events. I want my readers to finish my World War II  books having learnt more about the period as I do when reading Cornwell's books. The first in my series is available on Amazon and the second, An ATA Girl will be out in January or February next year.

Until next month,

Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Starting Again. Melinda Hammond ponders the next book.....

Having just published my 25th book with Harlequin/Mills & Boon, I suppose I can now call myself an "established" writer, but the truth is that every book is a new challenge and I feel the same worries and anxieties about my latest book as I felt with my very first. I am also very pleased to say I feel the same excitement about planning each new story, when I have just the germ of an idea and have to think of settings and characters etc.

So where does one start? It can be anywhere, from a visual image that might eventually be a scene in the book (such as these Waterloo re-enactors, inspiration for A Lady for Lord Randall)

... or a visit to an ice house, like this one (below) at Stourhead, which inspired a scene from my Melinda Hammond Regency adventure, Winter Inheritance.

Then there are the characters. Often, their appearance is based on real people in the media, such as Rufus Sewell, or Vivien Leigh, but this is just to help me visualise the characters while I write, and  their personalities can vary greatly – my heroes can be dark and moody or wickedly sexy, while the heroines vary from head-strong and spirited to the quiet but forceful type.

Places, too, are important. I set the opening scenes of The Duke's Secret Heir in Harrogate, which made it necessary to take a few visits there. Of course it is very different now from how it looked in the Regency, but there is still some evidence of how it used to be, if one looks closely.
For example, one of the old inns that was popular during the Regency was the Queen's Head (above) although it has now become Cedar Court, and there is also the Crown, in Low Harrogate (below), where my characters dance at the ball on a Wednesday evening.

Just now I am in the very pleasant position of planning my new book, so what shall it be, a military setting, or perhaps a comedy of manners set in Bath. What would you choose?

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Ladies' Pocket Magazine (1824-1839)

My copy of this must-have book for the fashionable lady in 1831 is conveniently pocket-sized and comprises 244 pages of short stories, poems, articles on famous women, dozens of ‘preceptive distichs’, fashion advice and twenty-seven illustrations, including some ravishing hand-coloured fashion plates. Unfortunately, a number of the plates have been torn out. Still, enough remain to give a good idea of what The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine would have looked like.

Blue ball dress, 1831

The fashion advice discusses the fashion plates in the pages following their illustrations; for example, with regard to the picture above, we learn that the ball dress is ‘etherial (sic) blue tulle over satin; the corsage is cut very low… Beret sleeves finished en manchette, with blond lace. The skirt is trimmed with six rouleaux… The hair is arranged in bands, and bows on the summit of the head, and in curls at the sides of the face, and adorned with light sprigs of blue and rose-coloured fancy flowers…. Swansdown boa tippet. ’

It’s also obvious, from the model’s elaborate hair style, that a lady’s maid is a must. ‘Manchette’ means cuff or ruffle; personally, I’d have called them frills, but, doubtless en manchette sounds more haute couture.

The fashion section continues with news on what’s in and what’s out – 'Dunstable straw bonnets are in and this Season’s colours are emerald green, azure blue, lilac, rose and canary-yellow. In Paris, blond lace is very popular and, for jewellery, it’s gold and emeralds.'


Reading lady

There are a number of small black and white ‘embellishments’ in the magazine and the magazine opens with this print of a reading lady. Underneath is written: Richard Ryan to a Young Lady: on seeing her reading a volume of his poems . This is followed by the poem itself. The poem ends: Say, what avails it, when I’m gone / What future ages think of me? /Oh, dearer far to know that one / Approves me now, and that is thee.

The ‘preceptive distichs’ mentioned in the List of Contents are moral maxims, e.g:

Avoid voluptuous pleasure in your prime ­–

   Your days will last and you enjoy their time.


Avoid the dice, destruction’s net and snare;

   The rich man’s prison and the poor man’s fare.

I’m not sure what the second line means but the general sentiment is clear enough.

Violet evening dress

The written description of this violet-coloured satin is illegible in places. The illustrations are hand-coloured and occasionally, as here, the paint was still a touch wet and left a smear on the opposite page which obscured some of the description.

However, I can read some of it: 'The border is trimmed with crepe ruches to correspond with the dress, they form wreaths of a singularly novel and pretty appearance; one is arranged near the lower edge of the hem, the other considerably higher.  The head-dress is a green velvet beret, the brim formed en coeur is decorated with white gauze ribbon, disposed en tulippe on the inside; five white ostrich feathers, which fall in contrary directions, are placed in front of the crown.'

I have to say that I'm not a fan of those absurdly wide shoulders.

Lady Jane Grey solicited to accept the crown

There are a also number of articles on famous women. The Lady Jane Grey engraving is accompanied by a poem by a Miss Leslie which begins:

Oh, not for me, oh not for me, /That fatal toy of gems and gold…

Some of The Lady’s Pocket Magazine’s comments on famous women are, frankly, bizarre. Take this one on Anne Boleyn: ‘We think she remained a girl after she was a wife – a pretty, tittering partner in a dance, but devoid of the mind and steadiness suited to the conjugal state.’

Not a view of the forceful, intelligent and sophisticated Anne we hold today!

Charles Barford with Lucy and Emily

The short story, Flirtation – a Tale of Modern Times has interesting echoes of Lydia Bennet. When the regiment comes to town, the lovely Emily’s attention wanders from the eligible Charles, who adores her, to the fascinating Colonel Darlington … Will Emily come to her senses before Charles runs out of patience? Or will Charles turn to her sensible older sister, Lucy?

Alas, poor Lucy doesn’t even get a look in; at twenty-seven, she’s far too old. Though, if I were editor, I’d demand that Charles dumps the tiresome Emily and goes for sensible Lucy instead.

Pink evening dress, 1831

This is what the magazine has to say about the above garment. ‘A dress of rose-coloured crepe over satin to correspond; the corsage is cut square, of a delicate height, it is draped à la grecq (sic), and bordered with blond lace. Beret sleeve, surmounted by an epaulette, composed of square ends of rose-coloured ribbon … The trimming of the skirt consists of nœuds (knots) to correspond… The hair is dressed in a few loose ringlets at the sides of the face, and in full bows on the forehead, and on the crown of the head; it is ornamented with rose-coloured fancy flowers.’

The hair looks fiendishly difficult to do, though, from the way it’s described, one feels that any half-competent lady’s maid should be able to do it in a trice. And what on earth does ‘a delicate height’ mean?

The birthplace of Robert Burns

Occasionally, the magazine allows a small article about more serious literature, see the illustration above. Underneath it is a short description of Burns’ birthplace; the cottage was actually built by the poet’s father, and we have the description of it in a quote from Burns' The Cotter’s Saturday Night. The article ends with the note that ‘the house has been turned into a snug public house’ and the landlord has pinned up the following inscription by the door: Halt, passenger, and read; / This is the humble cottage, / That gave birth to the celebrated /Poet, Robert Burns.

The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine tells us a lot about the period: what ladies wore, what they read and how they thought. Or, perhaps, it might be more accurate to say, what the, presumably, male editor thought they should be reading and thinking.

Elizabeth Hawksley



Friday, September 15, 2017

My Three Favourite Historical Fiction Writers

Initially I wrote a post about writing and depression but then thought that was too depressing so have decided to put up something on my three favourite historical fiction writers.
Bernard Cornwall must rank at the top of this list. I have every book he has written, apart from the short series set in America to do with the War of Independence which I didn't like. His research is impeccable, his writing compelling and his heroes everything they should be. Of course, the Sharpe novels were made into a series of TV dramas with the wonderful Sean Bean in the lead role. Whenever I reread one of these books, despite the fact that Sharpe is supposed to have black hair, I always imagine Sean Bean.
There is now a series about Uthred (see below) with an equally irresistible actor playing the lead role.
Richard Sharpe, who alone can recognise the top French spy, is under orders to capture him alive.
Richard Sharpe is once again at war. But this time his enemy is just one man – the ruthless Colonel Leroux. Sharpe’s mission is to safeguard El Mirador, a spy whose network of agents is vital to British victory. Soldier, hero, rogue – Sharpe is the man you always want on your side. Born in poverty, he joined the army to escape jail and climbed the ranks by sheer brutal courage. He knows no other family than the regiment of the 95th Rifles whose green jacket he proudly wears.
In a land torn apart by conflict, an orphan boy has come of age. Raised by the Vikings, deadly enemies of his own Saxon people, Uhtred is a fierce and skilled warrior who kneels to no-one.
Alfred – Saxon, king, man of god – fights to hold the throne of the only land still resisting the pagan northerners.
Uhtred and Alfred’s fates are tangled, soaked in blood and blackened b the flames of war. Together they will change history…

Christian Cameron is next on my list. I only discovered him comparatively recently but again I have everything he has written on my keeper shelf. I love his books and am reading his latest,The Green Count, at the moment. If you haven't read anything by him then I envy you – you've got a treat in store.
Arimnestos of Plataea was one of the heroes of the Battle of Marathon, in which the heroic Greeks halted the invading Persians in their tracks, and fought in the equally celebrated naval battle at Salamis.
But even these stunning victories only served to buy the Greeks time, as the Persians gathered a new army, returning with overwhelming force to strike the final killing blow.

For the Greeks, divided and outnumbered, there was only one possible strategy: attack. And so, in the blazing summer of 479 BC, Arimnestos took up his spear one final time at the Battle of Plataea.

The third on my list is Dorothy Dunnett. I can remember fighting over who would read her latest book first with my husband when they came out 40 years ago. They are complex, beautifully written, historically accurate stories spanning many years with a cast of compelling characters. I've read all of them at least three times.  To be honest, when I tried to reread the Lymond Chronicles a few years ago I couldn't get into it. I think they are too erudite for my ancient brain nowadays.
I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands'
It is 1547 and, after five years imprisonment and exile far from his homeland, Francis Crawford of Lymond - scholar, soldier, rebel, nobleman, outlaw - has at last come back to Edinburgh.
But for many in an already divided Scotland, where conspiracies swarm around the infant Queen Mary like clouds of midges, he is not welcome.
Lymond is wanted for treason and murder, and he is accompanied by a band of killers and ruffians who will only bring further violence and strife.
Is he back to foment rebellion?
Does he seek revenge on those who banished him? Or has he returned to clear his name?

No one but the enigmatic Lymond himself knows the truth - and no one will discover it until he is ready . . .
'A storyteller who could teach Scheherazade a thing or two about pace, suspense and imaginative invention' New York Times

I haven't included Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as they are not historical fiction writers, they are writers who wrote in their own era that we now read. I could have put Georgette Heyer in as I grew up on her books and read all of them voraciously in my teens. However, although her books are enjoyable, they don't compare the stature and gravitas of these others so I haven't included them.
Fenella J Miller

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Georgette Heyer: Watering-pots

Watering-pots are mentioned a number of times in Georgette Heyer’s novels - tearful heroines tend to apologize for behaving 'like a watering-pot' - so I thought it would be interesting to look at watering-pots more closely.

Take Frederica. The heroine, Frederica, is discussing her sister Charis with the hero, the Marquis of Alverstoke. Charis, she says, is very sensitive, ‘The mildest scold utterly sinks her spirits!’ Frederica wants to encourage Charis’s paragon of a suitor, Sir Mark Lyncham, who, she thinks, will be very gentle with her.

Alverstoke replies, caustically, ‘Judging him by myself, I should think he would murder her – or seek consolation elsewhere! I can think of few worse fates than to be married to a watering-pot!’


Inside the Garden Museum, next door to Lambeth Palace and once St Mary’s church
I’d always assumed that a watering-pot was a Regency synonym for a watering-can – until last Friday, when I visited the newly-opened Garden Museum in Lambeth and, to my amazement, they actually had an early 19th century watering-pot.

A watering-pot dating from 1800
This is it and you can see that it’s different from a watering-can. For a start, it’s rather squat and made of terracotta. It looks pretty heavy and it’s not a particularly attractive object. The short spout has what looks like an integral rose. Perhaps it unscrews but I suspect that the pot was filled from the hole in the top.

I couldn’t help thinking that it would probably break quite easily – unlike a metal watering-can – which may explain why I’d never seen one before.


Mid-19th century watering-can
The Garden Museum also had an example of a mid-19th century watering-can. It is a lot bigger than the watering-pot – and probably a lot lighter, too. You can understand why they took over from the watering-pot.

The two standing together
The case they were in was somewhat crowded – so apologies for the photo. The bottom of the watering-can is partly obscured by an early glass cucumber straightener! I’ve included this photo to show you the difference in size.  

So, dear reader, when you next read Frederica, and reach the bit at the end where Alverstoke tells Frederica that she’d better consent to Charis’s marriage with Endymion because, ‘You cannot possibly live with a watering-pot for the rest of the summer!’ you will know exactly what a watering-pot is.
Elizabeth Hawksley