Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Fast-paced Romp in the new Candlelight Courtships Regency Romantics anthology

It’s exciting to be releasing yet another new Regency in the winter anthology continuing the Regency Romantics series put out by myself and five fellow friends and novelists. I have a soft spot for this one. A Winter’s Madcap Escapade is a fast-paced romp and I’m hoping it will entertain readers as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The premise was all I had to begin with, an idea floating around for some years. A gentleman re-enters his coach to find a young damsel within who insists – at pistol point – that he take her to the next posting stage. By the time I came to write it I had a ready-made hero in Alexander Dymond who makes his first appearance as the friend and cousin of the hero Justin in the second story (A Chance Gone By) of my new Brides by Chance series.
As for Appoline, she leapt onto my stage like a crazy little whirlwind without warning or pause for thought. She was a delight to write and her antics drive Alex up the wall as he informs her several times. But all is not sweetness and light. There are skeletons in cupboards, heartache and a good deal of darkness before the dawning of an impossible happy ending.
We join our hero and heroine just after their journey together begins:

“I’m not running away. I am going to London to see the lawyer.”
Alexander began to feel a touch light-headed. What had he got himself mixed up in? Why had he let the wench persuade him into this?
“I must have taken leave of my senses,” he muttered. A tiny giggle drew his attention. He cocked an eyebrow. “Find that amusing? Suppose I should count myself fortunate if I don’t come out of this with a charge of kidnapping.”
“Oh, it will not come to that, sir. I shall slip out at the next stage and no one will know I was ever in your carriage.”
For a moment, Alexander allowed himself the luxury of relief, but it was short-lived. Under no circumstances could he let the silly chit go off on her own. She’d come to grief in no time. Best to keep this reflection to himself for the moment. Didn’t want her doing something idiotic, like trying to jump from the coach. She’d shown herself capable of any sort of crazy conduct.
“What’s your name?”
A wary look entered her face. “Why should I tell you?”
“Why shouldn’t you? Considering the way you were willing to trust yourself to a strange man, can’t see why you’d balk at telling me your name.”
“I didn’t trust you! Besides, I had the pistol.”
“Which wasn’t loaded, birdwit.”
“How dare you call me birdwit?”
“What else am I to call you if I don’t know your name?”
“Well, it’s Apple.”
Alexander let out a snorting laugh. “Wish you won’t be so stubborn! Apple? No one’s called Apple.”
Her eyes flashed. “I am called Apple. It’s my papa’s fault. He began it when I was a child and it stuck.”
“Oh, it’s a pet name? What’s your real name?”
“It’s Appoline, if you must know. Appoline Greenaway.”
“Ah, I see. Makes a bit more sense now.” He doffed his hat and made a little bow. “Miss Greenaway. I’m Dymond. Alexander Dymond. M’friends call me Alex.”
She inclined her head in a manner that struck him as a touch imperious. He tried not to laugh. A little out of place for a girl of her class. Though was it?
“What’s your station, Miss Greenaway? I mean, who was your father?”
“John Greenaway.”
“That tells me a lot.”
Miss Greenaway huffed a little. “I don’t see why I should tell you anything.”
“Suit yourself. Only I can’t help you if I don’t know the half of it.”
She eyed him with suspicion. “Why should you wish to help me?”
“Well, if that don’t beat all! Didn’t you throw yourself on my mercy?”
“No, I did not. I merely asked you to convey me a little way in your coach. That does not give you the right to demand the history of my life.”
“First off, you didn’t ask me. You ordered me at gunpoint. Second, if you don’t stop trying to run rings round me, I’ll set you down in the middle of the countryside and leave you there.”
Miss Greenaway’s obstinate little chin came up. “No, you won’t. You are not that sort of man.”

There are five more sparkling Regencies to enjoy in this anthology, which is available now from now from Amazon UK  and Amazon US as well as all other Amazons. Keep checking the blog over the coming weeks to find out more about the rest of the stories  included in the set.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Candlelight Courtships: Regency Romantics Winter Edition 2016

It’s always exciting to have a new release and Candlelight Courtships, our Regency Romantics Winter 2016 set, is just out. This 6-book set set contains some old books and some new ones to entertain you over the autumn and winter months. We decided to call it a winter set this year, instead of a Christmas set, because not all of the books are about Christmas (although some of them are). My contribution, One Night at the Abbey, begins in October when autumn is slowly giving way to winter. It was previously published as Carisbrooke Abbey by Robert Hale Ltd. It’s a bit different from my earlier Regency romances because it has something of a Gothic feel to it, with the heroine going to work at a remote abbey. She has a job close to my heart because she is in charge of Lord Carisbrooke’s extensive library. This causes some friction, because when Lord Carisbrooke appointed her, he thought she was Mr Wentworth, and not Miss Wentworth! 

The mix-up occurs because he appoints her by letter, and once he discovers the truth he wants to send her packing – except it is a very wild night and not even the mysterious Lord Carisbrooke can bring himself to turn Hilary out in the storm! Their first meeting takes place in the woods. Hilary is walking to the abbey when the storm brings a tree crashing down. It catches her a glancing blow and Lord Carisbrooke finds her with her foot trapped beneath it. As Hilary tries to free her foot, she hears a noise and this is what happens next:

     Looking up, she gasped. A large, bulky shape was standing there. It was huge and shaggy, some kind of wild animal . . . a bear, rearing up on its hind legs! Shocked, she tried to struggle free . . . until another flash of lightning lit the scene, and she saw that the dark shape was not a bear at all, but a man. She could be forgiven for her mistake, for he was tall and broad, and with his grizzled hair he looked wild and savage.
     ‘Hell’s teeth!’ he ground out. ‘What are you doing in the wood?’
     His ungracious words dispelled her fear and stung her to make a sharp retort. ‘That is none of your business.’
     ‘Oh, isn’t it?’ he growled.
     ‘No, it is not.’ Focusing on her anger, which helped her to take her mind from the pain, she went on. ‘So if you would just help me to free my foot —’
     ‘Oh! So that is my business,’ he returned churlishly.
     ‘You are right, it isn’t,’ she said, biting her lip. ‘Very well, then, if you are not going to make yourself useful, you had better be on your way.’
     The sound came out gruffly, but another flash of lightning tore open the sky, and to Hilary’s surprise she saw that there was a glint of respect in his eye. Her spirited retort had done her no harm with him and she was grateful. She had spoken without thinking, and it would have been disastrous if he had taken her at her word.
     He turned his attention away from her and fixed it on the tree. After examining it for a few minutes he bent down and took hold of the crown. Then, flexing his huge shoulders, he lifted it from the ground.
     Hilary seized the moment and pulled her foot free. She ought to thank him, but he had helped her with such a bad grace that she was reluctant to do so. Good breeding got the better of her baser instincts, however, and she muttered an unwilling, ‘Thank you.’
     ‘Don’t mention it.’
     And why was he so bad-tempered? she wondered, hearing his gruff tone. It wasn’t as though he had spent the last hour tramping through the rain, trying to find an elusive abbey, and had then been knocked down by a tree!
     But whatever the reason, it was not her concern. She had other things to worry about.
She turned her attention back to her foot. It was difficult to see how badly it had been injured. The lightning had retreated and the stormy day was once more dark, but her ankle was sore and it was starting to throb.
     The bear-like man crouched down in front of her. Before she could stop him, he lifted her foot onto his knee. She winced, expecting him to hurt her, but his touch was strangely gentle. Though his hands were large they possessed a delicacy she had not expected. His fingers were long and broad, and they were weather beaten, showing the brown hue of a man who spent much of his life out of doors. As he ran his hands over her kid boot, searching it deftly for a sign of any broken bones, to her surprise she felt her foot began to tingle. It was an unusual sensation, and yet pleasant. Better still, it seemed to blot out the pain.

The set is available now from Amazon UK  and  Amazon US as well as all other Amazons. Check out the blog over the coming weeks to find out more about the other books included in the set.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Veiled In Blue

I have to talk about my new release today. In the past, I used to find it really hard to get the word out about new books, but somebody said to me, “If they don’t know it’s there, they can’t buy it,” and by jingo, she was right.
But this is a bit more than a “buy my book” which I still don’t like doing.
While Veiled In Blue is the sixth book in a series, it can be read as a standalone. It’s part of a series because there’s a theme and a family underlying the whole series, but the theme is easy enough. It’s part of my “Emperors of London” series, about a family’s secret fight against the people who would put the Stuarts back on the throne.
In search of one of the secret children of the Old Pretender, the startlingly named Julius Caesar, Lord Winterton, drops the title and slips into the little village of Appleton, where he meets his fate. Eve Merton is the daughter of the last vicar of Appleton, and she lives in genteel poverty with her mother. Originally Eve had a sister, but she got so whiny and didn’t actually do anything, so I got rid of her. Because that’s how I roll. I was sorry for her, but she had to go.
Anyway, after an excruciating journey to the village, where Eve has an unfortunate effect on Julius, he gets to work. In the small community he discovers spies and highwaymen, and renews his friendship with his cousin Alex, who has retired to a grand house nearby with his wife. He has his hands full, not least with Eve.
Every time I start these books I have a detailed plan. Then, when I get about halfway through, I have to stop and re-plan. In this one, I had to keep Julius and Eve’s hands off one another, which was something of a shock. But I had to cope with her, and accommodate her. People often ask how much sex to put into a book, and if there should be sex in historicals at all, and sometimes mine are a bit sexier than the norm. I can only say that I let my characters control that part of their lives. In some of my books, they don’t get it on for a long time, and in others, they’re at it like bunnies. Since Julius is a gentleman, and Eve doesn’t trust her feelings, I managed to keep them apart, but sometimes I felt like a referee in a boxing ring, separating them!
There’s only one more book in this series to go, and then it’s taking a break.
I am writing a trilogy about the Strenshalls, another part of the Emperors of London family. In this series, “Those Scandalous Shaws,” they don’t concentrate on discovering the children of the Old Pretender, but they have other problems to solve. But that’s for next year. Now here’s the information about “Veiled In Blue.”
I thank you.

The Emperors of London, Book 6

Buy the Book and read an extract:
Publisher – Kensington Books
Amazon USA
Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble Nook
Google Play Store
It is up to the Emperors of London to protect the throne—without risking their hearts…Governess Eve Merton would have fallen into serious trouble on her walk home if a handsome stranger had not stopped to help her. But when Mr. Vernon gives her a lift on his horse, he makes no secret of his attraction. As a well brought-up young lady, Eve does her best not to notice, but when he sets about courting her, she knows she’s in trouble. For she has a secret: she is the daughter of a deposed king, which means not only is she without a dowry, but also that her life is in danger…
Little does Eve know that Mr. Vernon has secrets of his own. In truth, his name is Julius, Lord Winterton, and he’s well aware that Eve is the offspring of the Old Pretender. In order to save his sister, he must convince Eve to wed—though he wants nothing to do with love. But as the two grow closer and an attempt is made on Eve’s life, Julius may realize that fighting his heart’s true desire is a battle most pleasurably surrendered…

Click here to read Chapter One

Sunday, October 09, 2016

A Most Unusual Christmas

This is my latest release - it was in the Regency Romantics Christmas box set last year. J D Smith always produces an excellent cover for me.
This year's title for The Regency Romantics is called 'A Most Unexpected Christmas'. So far I've managed to muddle the titles and covers twice - and have just realised the cover, I inadvertently had designed for next year's single release, shows a summer scene when the book takes place in the snow. I shall get J D Smith to change the title and use this for another book.

Here is the opening scene:

December 1815

‘Mama, Amanda, you must be freezing. It’s damnably cold in here.’ Guy gathered up the fur from his knees and carefully tucked it around his sister and his mother.
‘It’s been snowing for the past hour, Bromley, should we not have stopped at the last inn and taken shelter from the blizzard?’ Harry, his junior by eight years and heir to his earldom and vast estates, shifted his weight and the carriage rocked.
‘Sit still, Harry, you’ll have us in the ditch,’ Amanda snapped. ‘Mama, I’m going to cast up my accounts if I do not get out of this carriage immediately.’ His sister was an indifferent traveller and had been begging him to curtail their journey for this past hour.
He sincerely regretted agreeing to spend the Christmas period with his uncle in Suffolk when the weather was so inclement. They would have been better to remain at home in Hertfordshire, but his siblings and mama had been determined to celebrate Christ’s name day with their cousins where there would be parties and jollity. For his maternal uncle Christmas was enjoyed in the old-fashioned way. Since his wife had died from the wasting sickness two years ago there had been nothing to celebrate at Bromley Court.
Guy leaned over and was about to unhook the leather strap that held the window when his world turned upside down. As the carriage tumbled sideways he braced himself against the sides and prayed his family would suffer no serious harm from the accident.
His sister’s scream ripped the air and then he was crushed beneath a tangle of arms and legs as the vehicle settled, with an ominous crack on its side.
‘Everyone, remain still, don’t try and get up until I can discover exactly what has occurred.’
‘Bromley, you nincompoop, we’ve overturned, even I know that.’ Harry’s voice came from the other side of the carriage.
‘Mama, Amanda, are you hurt?’ Guy carefully removed his right hand from the side of the carriage and gently touched the inert form resting on his chest. This meant him taking the weight entirely on his left arm. He was fairly sure it was his sister who was crushed against him and she was disturbingly still.
‘I am unhurt, Bromley, I landed on top of your brother and he broke my fall. Why isn’t Amanda speaking to us?’
‘She’s unconscious, Mama, but from my investigation I think her merely stunned.’ He had no idea if this was the case, but thought it wise not to send his mother into a conniption fit.
The clattering and noise that had been coming from the horses stopped and Fred, his head coachman, banged on the side of the coach. ‘My lord, you must keep still, the carriage is perilously balanced above a deep ditch. The axle broke and this tipped us over.’
‘Understood. Use the horses to pull the carriage upright, but be quick, Lady Amanda is injured.’
‘There’s a drive leading to a big house – I’ve sent Tom on one of the horses to fetch help. We’ll have you all out of there right smart, my lord.’
‘Excellent. Are the horses unharmed?’
‘Yes, my lord, but I fear the carriage is done for.’
Amanda groaned and tried to move. ‘Hush, little one, you must remain still. We shall be out of here soon and in the warm.’
As he spoke he was aware that icy water was already seeping through the door and his heavy travelling coat was becoming unpleasantly wet. He daren’t move as this might tip the carriage further into the ditch. ‘Harry, I shall need you and mama to move backwards very slowly in a minute. Be ready to stop if we start to slide further into the ditch.’
His back was already wet and if he didn’t get himself clear of the water he feared his sister would soon be damp as well as concussed.
‘Fred, tie the harness to the wheels and get the remaining animals to take the strain. We cannot wait for help to arrive. We must do something now.’
His coachman shouted his agreement and a few minutes later the coach rocked and then it slowly moved towards the road. ‘Right, my lord, all secure, you won’t tip no further.’
‘Harry, Mama, roll towards the road. Do it now.’ Guy placed one arm around his sister and then threw his considerable weight forward. The carriage groaned and creaked as if alive and slowly righted itself. They were now jammed into the well of the carriage and his sister was still not fully conscious. He had managed to protect her as the vehicle rolled and was sure she had suffered no further harm.
The door opened and Fred pulled down the steps and assisted his mother to her feet. His brother had remained where he was.
‘I didn’t want to say anything, Bromley, but I’m damned if I haven’t broken my leg.’
‘Stay where you are, old fellow, I’ll hand Amanda out and then we can see to you.’
A tall, young man stepped forward through the blizzard and held out his arms to receive Amanda’s semi-conscious body. ‘Allow me, sir, I’m Richard Hadley, I live at the Abbey. I can hold her until help arrives.’
Guy handed his sister across. ‘Here, Hadley, wrap her in this fur. There are several others in here, would you be kind enough to give them to my mother?’
Once he was sure his family were as warm and safe as they could be in the circumstances Guy turned his attention to his brother. From the angle of his leg it was a nasty break and moving him without doing further damage was going to be all but impossible.
The snow was muffling all sound and he doubted if he’d hear rescue approaching until it arrived. He strained his ears and was certain there was a horse approaching at a gallop. Tom reined in and told them a carriage was on its way.
‘Return to the house, Tom, tell them my brother has broken his leg and will require a trestle to get him to safety.’
The boy touched his cap and disappeared into the swirling whiteness.
Cressida was gazing out of the window at the flurries of snow. ‘I think this year we’ll have a white Christmas, Papa, it’s already settling.’
Her father, Colonel John Hadley, peered at her over his newspaper. ‘I shall have to cancel our New Year ball if that’s the case.’
Sarah, her younger sister by three years, jumped to her feet and ran to the window. ‘It might be pretty, but I hate the snow. I shan’t be able to ride and we shall have no visitors at all until it goes.’
‘Where is your brother? I’ve not seen him since last night.’
She and Sarah exchanged a worried glance. ‘I believe he stayed in the village, Papa, some of his friends from Oxford were passing through.’
‘As long as it’s not those rackety fellows from London – they will lead Richard into further mischief and I might not be able to extricate him next time.’
Cressida was about to turn away when Sarah clutched her arm. ‘Look, there’s a youth in livery galloping down the drive. If I’m not mistaken he’s riding a carriage horse.’
Immediately her father was on his feet. ‘There must have been an accident. Girls, inform the housekeeper that we need chambers preparing.’ He strode from the room to organise a rescue.
Cressida hurried after him eager to hear how many visitors they might expect. ‘I sincerely hope no one has been seriously hurt, the weather is worsening and I doubt anyone will get through to the doctor in the next village.’
‘Mama taught you everything she knew about healing and herbs. I doubt there’s another young lady in the county who could set a bone or stitch a wound the way you can.’ Papa smiled down at her.
‘Sarah, please find Miller whilst I prepare my basket and arrange for hot water to be fetched.’ She paused as something occurred to her. ‘I think it might be wise to have the downstairs apartment made ready in case anyone is seriously injured. It will be far easier to nurse them down here. Don’t forget there will be servants as well as the travellers to provide for.’
Her sister ran off – there was no need to remind her about warning their head groom – Sarah preferred animals to humans and her first concern would be for the horses. Since their beloved mama had died three years ago it had fallen to Cressida to take over the running of the household and all thought of having a Season had been put to one side.
For Cressida this had been a relief more than anything else for she had been dreading spending several months being ogled and crushed at a variety of routs and balls. Papa wished Sarah to make her come out in March next year – at eighteen years of age she would be a year or two older than most debutantes – but her sister was equally reluctant to go to London and be paraded like a prize heifer in front of suitable bachelors.
As she passed through the impressive entrance hall, Grimshaw, the butler, opened the front door and an icy blast of snow and wind filled the space. She waited in order to hear exactly what had transpired at the end of the drive. Knowing the extent of any injuries that had been sustained would make her task much easier.
The young coachman refused to come in after delivering his message and vaulted onto his waiting horse and thundered off down the drive again. Her father appeared, in his riding coat and beaver, on the gallery and came down the steps three at a time.
‘Earl Bromley, Lady Bromley, his mother, and his brother and sister were in the coach that overturned. Lady Amanda appears to be the only one injured, which is a relief. I shall leave Miller to arrange suitable accommodation for our unexpected guests.’
‘I’m sending a carriage to collect them, my dear, and I’ll accompany it. It’s damned dark outside and barely two o’clock. Get Cook to bring dinner forward – no doubt they’ll be sharp-set after this mishap and want to eat as soon as possible.’
‘They will be without their luggage and will require fresh garments. However, I’ll have to wait until I meet this family of aristocrats before finding them something suitable.’
‘I expect they’ll need personal servants too, get Grimshaw to find somebody for the earl and his brother, and Miller can do the same for the ladies.’
He strode off to the side door which led directly to the stables leaving her to hurry to her still room at the rear of the house. It was here that she prepared the concoctions and tisanes she prescribed for both indoor and outdoor staff. Possibly she would have been burned as a witch two hundred years ago, but nowadays most people were more enlightened.
The local physician was in his dotage and still believed that everything could be cured by bleeding. For this reason her mother had taken over the task of doctoring on their estate and had passed on her extensive knowledge to Cressida.
By the time she had assembled the things she thought she might need a quarter of an hour had passed. She carried a basket to the downstairs apartment that had been occupied by her grandfather. Whilst her father had been fighting the French, her mother and her siblings had remained with Grandfather. When the war ended last year Papa had finally come home to take over the estate which had been run in his absence by a highly competent estate manager.
Her eyes filled as she recalled the dreadful winter three years ago when Mama had died from the putrid sore throat. Her father had not heard of her demise until they were out of mourning and by then there was little point in him returning.
Richard had been sent down from Oxford shortly after Mama died and since then had fallen from one scrape to another. His intention had been to join papa’s regiment, but new officers were not needed now Bonaparte was safely captured. Where was he? Why hadn’t he returned last night?
She pushed her concerns aside; her brother was a grown man and capable of taking care of himself. She must concentrate on helping the occupants from the coach. Although the building had been in the Hadley family for generations, they were not part of the elite that ruled the country. They had no wish to be ennobled and kept well away from politics. The thought of having such top lofty folk staying with them over the Christmas period filled her with foreboding.
The house was bustling with maids and footmen fetching and carrying items for the underused apartment downstairs. This had been under holland covers since her grandfather had died and she hoped the rooms would not be damp.
Miller was directing operations and Cressida was pleased to see that fires had been lit and the chambers were no longer below freezing.
‘The beds are made and warming pans have been passed through. I’ve cleared the table by the washstand for you, Miss Hadley; will that be sufficient for your needs?’
‘Thank you, Miller, you’ve thought of everything. I expect Lord Bromley and his family will be here shortly. As soon as we can see their size and shape we can find them fresh clothes.’
‘I’ve already found nightshirts and nightgowns, underpinnings and wraps – I can have everything else collected as soon as they arrive. I’ve put Earl Bromley in the best apartment, the Dowager Lady Bromley next door to him and everything is also ready in the smaller guest chamber. Until we know who is going to be sleeping down here, I cannot complete my preparations.’
Cressida put down her basket as the housekeeper was speaking and began to arrange the things she thought she might need. ‘There must be at least two coachmen and they will need accommodation outside with our grooms and gardeners.’
‘Miss Sarah has seen to that. It’s a good thing the pantries are wellstocked because of the Christmas festivities, I doubt that anyone will be able to deliver extra provisions until the snow has gone.’
Once she was sure everything was as prepared as it could be Cressida ran upstairs and put on her stout boots, muffler and cape just in case she was required to go outside and assist when the carriage returned. She was on her way downstairs when there was a second hammering on the door.
Grimshaw spoke briefly to the person on the doorstep and then turned to her. ‘Lord Bromley’s brother has broken his leg. They want a trestle to carry him back here.’
‘Send word outside. I must go too, have my horse saddled whilst I collect what I need.’

Is it too early to wish you Happy Christmas?  Thought so.
Fenella J Miller

Saturday, October 08, 2016


I was reading the newspaper today and came across an article about a landowner in Somerset who was so fed up of beavers eating his trees that he was offering a reward to anyone who got rid of them. This surprised me as I knew beavers had been extinct in the UK for hundreds of years and had only been re-introduced recently into a few places. I assumed that they would be a protected species but that's not the case. So those beavers need to keep their heads down.

Every so often I’m reading a historical novel and a wolf stalks across the historical landscape, or a red kite swoops down in the streets of London and carries off a kitten. Fascinating background colour, but it does get me wondering about extinction dates for various species in the UK because nothing will pull me out of a book faster than a bear chasing someone (unless of course it's an escaped dancing bear!)

So here’s a round up of a few extinction dates for species in Britain, although some of these are in dispute.

The Lynx - 400AD

As recently as 2005 it was believed that the lynx had died out in the UK about 4000 BC when the
climate turned cooler and wetter. Then animal bones were discovered in a cave in Yorkshire that were carbon dated to about 400 – 500 AD. Just as I love to think that the Scottish Wild Cat still prowls the glens, so the thought of a lynx adds a perfect touch of mystery to a book set in the Dark Ages. The 

Brown Bear – Circa 1000 AD

Bears are thought to have died out in Britain shortly before the medieval period due to heavy deforestation and hunting by humans. Bones and skulls have been found scattered in many parts of the Scottish Highlands while bears are often depicted on Pictish stones. This is pretty amazing to me. Despite having seen bears in the French Pyrenees I just can’t get my head around the thought that shortly before the Norman Conquest you could have been wandering around a forest somewhere in the UK and bump into a bear.

The Wolf – Circa 1740 AD (unless it’s a werewolf, of course)
I love Scotland and sometimes when I’m standing in the forest listening to the silence I imagine what it would be like to hear the night split by a wolf’s unearthly howl. The wolf was exterminated in Britain after centuries of persecution. The last wolves were in the Scottish Highlands and the last one was reputed killed in 1740. I think it would be pretty cool to feature a wolf in a book set in the Highlands in the 18th century.

As someone who has walked with wolves at the Wolf Trust, I admit to a huge admiration for these fabulous animals. The one licking my face in the photograph was 6 months old and a big cub.

The Wild Boar – Circa 1300AD

The extinction of the Wild Boar in the UK is complicated by the fact that it was re-introduced several times, notably in the 17th century. The re-introductions were not successful as many people saw the boar as a threat to agriculture and hunted it. Wild boar farming in England began in the 1970s and 1980s and since then populations of escapees have established themselves in the wild. On the basis of this evidence I think it would be quite credible to have a wild boar featuring in a Regency-set book!

The Beaver – Circa 1300 AD

For many years I believed that beavers were still around in the early 19th century because of all the curly-brimmed beaver hats that featured in Regency romances. In fact the beaver was hunted to extinction many years before, for its fur and the pain-relieving properties of its anal gland secretions. The beaver hats of the Regency were made from imported American beaver fur.

Red Kite

The Red Kite was never completely eradicated in the UK. Whilst you wouldn’t see many kites in a
city these days a remnant of the population survived in Wales and it was recently re-introduced into the Chilterns and has spread very successfully across parts of the south of the UK. Indeed it was reported in 2006 that a Red Kite had been seen over London after an absence of 150 years and when I was on the train a few weeks ago I saw them flying over Reading.

The streets of Shakespeare’s capital were full of red kites. He referred to it as “The city of kites and crows.” The birds were scavengers, never short of a meal at a time when people threw their rubbish in the street. They also stole washing off lines for their nests. But gradually improving public hygiene and waste-disposal robbed the red kite of its niche in the London ecosystem, and by the end of the 18th century it was extinct as a breeding bird. The last sighting on the streets of the capital was in 1859.

We've all come across some anachronistic flora and fauna mentioned in historical novels sometimes and perhaps it doesn't matter but it's interesting to know which animals and birds were actually around when!  

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

JANE AUSTEN: Glee Singing at Mansfield Park

There is a small but telling episode in Chapter XI of Mansfield Park, where Maria and Julia Bertram, Henry Crawford and Mr Rushworth (Maria Bertram’s fiancée) are clustering round the piano. It is a November evening, and the young people are arranging candles in preparation for some glee singing. Fanny, Edmund and Mary Crawford are standing by the window.

Mansfield Park: preparing to sing glees by Hugh Thomson

Glee-singing had been a popular pastime since the 17th century. Glees are part songs, usually written for three voices; they are rounds, like 'London's Burning'. Particular favourites were the Damon and Amaryllis songs, composed in the 17th century and popular until the 1850s.

The three Damon and Amaryllis songs are perfect for a little covert flirting. (I happen to know because I have sung them.) So I thought it might be interesting to look at them more closely. What are the words and do they have any relevance to the story?


Jane Austen, after Cassandra Austen, stipple engraving, 1870, National Portrait Gallery
The first song is Turn, Amaryllis.
Turn, Amaryllis, to thy swain, thy Damon calls thee back again./ Here is a pretty, pretty, pretty arbour nigh,/ Where Apollo cannot spy./ There let us sit and while I play,/ Sing to my pipes a roundelay.
The last two lines hint at a double-entendre – whatever Damon and Amaryllis are up to, they don’t want Apollo watching. What, exactly, we might ask, does Damon mean by ‘pipes’ and what ‘roundelay’ does he have in mind?

The second Damon and Amaryllis song is Go, Damon, Go.
Go, Damon, go, Amaryllis bids adieu,/ Go seek another love, but prove to her more true./ No, no, I care not for your pretty arbour nigh,/ Although great Apollo cannot spy./ Nor will I sit and hear you play,/ Nor tune my voice to your roundelay!
Amaryllis is plainly not impressed and accuses him of being unfaithful. Plenty of scope for lovers there! I can imagine Maria Bertram smirking to herself.
Young Lady at a Cabinet Pianoforte c. 1808

The last Damon and Amaryllis song is Adieu, sweet Amaryllis.
Adieu, sweet Amaryllis,/ For since to part your will is,/ Adieu, sweet Amaryllis./ O woeful tiding!/ There is for me no biding,/ Yet once again ere that I part from you,/ Amaryllis, sweet, Adieu.
This is Damon’s lament at Amaryllis’s rejection; he will kill himself, if he cannot have her.

A rejected lover?

Jane Austen may well have known the Damon and Amaryllis glees, and, intriguingly, they echo something of the Crawford – Maria relationship triangle. It is obvious that Damon has been playing his pipes to more than one nymph – just as Henry Crawford has when amuses himself by re-stoking Maria’s affections whilst, at the same time, and more seriously, courting Fanny. And Maria is also guilty of encouraging Henry’s attentions when she is already engaged to Mr Rushworth. A number of people clustering round that piano in Mansfield Park would have been ‘in the know’ or, at the very least, guessed something of what was going on.

Jane Austen does not tell us which glees the Mansfield Park group were singing but the Damon and Amaryllis  songs are typical of the genre. I think we can be sure that the glees singing on that November evening would have been pretty emotionally charged.

Elizabeth Hawksley


Monday, October 03, 2016


Autumn is coming, and with it the colder nights, when it is good to curl up with a book.  I have been revising some of my Melinda Hammond romances for Kindle, including GENTLEMEN IN QUESTION, which is a perfect fireside read, so I am offering the e-book for a short time (until 10th October 16) at half price.

It is set during the turbulent years at the end of the 18th century, when revolution in France was unsettling everyone in England. Fears of invasion, spies and unrest made everyone highly suspicious, and Madeleine Sedgewick is caught up in a dangerous web of intrigue - should she trust her handsome French cousin Camille or the enigmatic Beau Hauxwell?

Here's an extract for you. The Sedgewicks are at the port of Rye to meet their French relative when he arrives from France.....

Mr Sedgewick made a grab for his hat as he finished speaking, for they had reached the waterfront where there was no shelter from the blustery wind. He hurried the ladies along the quay towards the bustle of activity taking place beside the packet, which was by this time safely moored.

'I think I see him!' cried Mr Sedgewick.

He guided the ladies towards a lone figure, standing a little apart from the general crowd. The man was wrapped in a dark surtout, its collar turned up and his hat pulled so low that very little of his countenance was exposed to the chill wind.

'Sir, if you will excuse me, Monsieur le Comte?'

The stranger turned and a flash of white was visible between the hat brim and the collar.

'Ah, mon oncle Sedgewick, n'est-ce pas?' He removed his hat and made a flourishing bow, 'Camille du Vivière, at your service, monsieur.'

Mr Sedgewick grasped his hand and shook it vigorously.

'Camille, my boy, it's very good to see you here at last! You remember your aunt, of course, but perhaps you will not recognise this young lady, eh?'

He drew Madeleine forward and the comte's dark eyes rested upon her for a moment, then with a smile he took her hand and raised it to his lips.

'Madeleine, I could not mistake you.'

'Then your memory is better than mine, monsieur, since I cannot in truth say I remember you at all!' she replied laughingly.

'Ah, but you were a babe, were you not, when we last met?'

'I was all of five years, sir, but you were more than twice my age, and very grown up, as you never ceased to inform me. That much I do recall.'

He squeezed her fingers, smiling ruefully.

'Was I indeed so insolent? It was bad of me, but now I will allow you to be very grown up, and very beautiful, too.'

Madeleine laughed and blushed. She wanted to tease him by saying that she had grown up to be as tall as he, but their acquaintance was too new to risk such a joke. She was grateful to her father for his suggestion that they remove from the area.

'We have rooms at a local inn for tonight,' he continued, taking the Frenchman by the arm and preparing to lead him away. 'I thought it best that we all get a good night's rest before travelling on to Stapley in the morning. Is that your only trunk? Just a moment and I'll have one of these fellows carry it to the Three Barrels…..'

While Mr Sedgewick and the comte went off to find a porter, his wife took the opportunity of a quiet word with her daughter.

'Well, what a pleasant surprise. Whoever would have thought that your cousin would achieve such pleasing manners – he was such a proud, odious little boy.'

'He certainly seems to have changed for the better.'

'And so very personable,' pursued Mrs Sedgewick. 'I fear he will create something of a stir amongst the young ladies of the neighbourhood.'

'That need not worry us, Mama. Since Grandpapa never allows us to entertain at Stapley Hall, no-one will have the chance to meet Camille.'

'I very much fear you are right,' agreed her mama sadly, 'but perhaps it is not such a bad thing after all, for the poor young man cannot be said to be a very eligible parti, can he? And until some sort of order can be brought about in France – and it is no good anyone telling me that the Convention has any proper control, not when people are turned out of houses that have been in their family for generations and forced to fly the country, to say nothing of imprisoning their own king! No, as long as those detestable people are in power I fear your poor cousin can have little chance of regaining his estates.' She sighed. 'But there it is, we cannot change the situation. Now, here comes Camille. He can escort you back to the inn and you must do your best to keep him amused, poor young man, he has had such a sad time of it.'

'But I hardly know him, Mama – ' Madeleine's protest was brushed aside.

'You are never at a loss for words when you meet your grandfather, and if you can stand up to him without trembling I am sure you can entertain a pleasant young man for a few minutes. Hush now. Here he comes.'

There was no time for further protest. Mrs Sedgewick took up her position beside her husband, leaving Madeleine to accept the comte's escort. It did not displease her to have her cousin's company. On the contrary, she found his diffidence very engaging, but having been instructed to amuse him, she could think of nothing entertaining to say and thus it was that after a few moments her companion was moved to enquire if he had in some way offended.

'No, of course not, Monsieur le Comte!'

'Ah – it is perhaps the mode for English ladies to walk along in silence and looking so very serious?'

She smiled at this but shook her head.

'Not at all. In fact, I am failing in my duty, Monsieur le Comte. I should be amusing you with an endless flow of small talk, and alas I can think of nothing to say.'

'A situation that will be remedied, I trust, when we are better acquainted. And perhaps we may begin by dispensing with formality. I will not have you call me "Monsieur le Comte" a moment longer. It must be Camille, if you please or,' he temporized, sensing her hesitation, 'at the very least "cousin".'

She laughed.

'Very well, Cousin! Only tell me what you would like to talk about and I will do my best to accommodate you.'

Happy Reading

Gentlemen in Question  by Melinda Hammond

Friday, September 09, 2016

Seedtime & Harvest

I have a wonderful little book, Seedtime & Harvest, the diary of an Essex farmer, William Barnard of Harlowbury. The book is published by the Essex Record office and written by Joyce Jones.
I tend only to think of it at the beginning of autumn – especially if I'm writing a Regency – which I am at the moment.
Harlowbury Farm was part of the parish of Harlow. The soil was gravel overlying London clay. It comprised of around 400 acres with about 250 acres in arable production.

This is what William Barnard wrote in his diary on September 9, 1820:
We had a very fine week & I have finished my harvest this day. I have been obliged to make great exertions to do it having kept three forks always pitching and some days 
four . . . the barley carting was almost endless, two forks beginning at eight in the morning could not cart a large part of it.

 In 1816 on September 23rd he wrote this:

I carted the mud out of horse pond on Little Townfield some weeks ago & did about 3 acres with it. I have been carting mud the whole week from Rushy piece pond on 18 acres Lower Stoney & manured about 2 1/2 acres with it.

This year the weather was appalling throughout Europe because of a volcanic eruption in the Far East. This meant harvests everywhere were poor. Strangely when he had a good harvest and the barn was full it wasn't all good news because the price of grain fell as there was a glut.

 September 17, 1814
I completely finished my harvest on the 12 but had a full days work; I never began harvest with more fear on account of the great bulk of the corn, by very great excursion & hiring Prior's wagon & 2 horses & retaining some of the acre mentally end of the harvest I have got through beyond my expectation.

As always, after a horse rake had been drawn over the stubble to clean off the remainder of the harvest the women and children came onto the field to glean what was left. These poor folk couldn't survive without this extra food which fed their chickens and helped with breadmaking.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into a farmer's life in Essex. No doubt I shall tell you more about William Barnard next September.

Fenella J Miller

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A Brief History of Dunking Biscuits

With the new series of the Great British Bake Off in full swing on the BBC there has already been controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to dunk Jaffa cakes in your tea or coffee. This led to a segment of the show giving the history of biscuit dunking, which, it turns out, is an ancient tradition. Apparently dunking, dipping or submerging a biscuit in a beverage releases more flavours by dissolving the sugar in it and also softening the texture. If you dunk a chocolate biscuit it is supposed to become even more chocolatey! But some people do not approve; in a survey 52% of people said they never dunked!

It was the Romans who started the tradition. They dunked their hard, unleavened wafers in wine in order to soften them. These wafers were known as “bis cotum” leading to the word biscuit. Modern day dunking, however, has it roots in the naval traditions of the 16th century when a flour and water mixture known as “hard tack” was baked and used for sailors’ rations. These incredibly unappealing biscuits were also known as “tooth dullers” and “molar breakers” making the need for dunking very clear. Hard tack was routine dipped in beer or brine (!) to soften it before it was even remotely edible. The fact that the one in the picture below has survived from the 19th century proves just how tough they must have been!

By the 17th century the basic biscuit recipe had been developed into something much nicer that tasted like sponge fingers. These were originally served at the end of the meal and dipped into wine or other alcoholic beverages. They are the ancestors of the trifle. From that time on, a number of biscuit recipes proliferated until in the Victorian period, biscuits, cake and tea were partaken mid-afternoon as the formal afternoon tea. Dunking, however, was discouraged. The Victorians disapproved of public biscuit dipping, feeling that it was something only to be done in the privacy of one’s own home.

Not everyone enjoys dunking and the choice of a dunking biscuit is still a very personal matter. So here is the all-important question. Do you dunk? And if so, what is your biscuit of choice?