Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Silent Companion!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

July 1939, Essex

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

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

Fenella J Miller

Monday, April 10, 2017


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

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

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

Hand to hand fighting at Hougoumont

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Elopement of Elizabeth Ann Linley and Richard Brinsley Sheridan

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

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

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


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

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

Magnolia and daffodils

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


Paola making coffee

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novelists, take note!
Elizabeth Hawksley

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Coping with Shakespeare

Those of us who write historical romance tend to be familiar with old-fashioned language, although we have to be circumspect about making it understandable to readers. Thus it is with productions of Shakespeare which often seek to shift the scenario to a modern day equivalent in hopes of making the Bard more accessible.

My epiphany with Shakespeare came when I was at drama school, because now I had to be able to work with the language and make it emotionally real to an audience.

I remember the exact speech where I made the breakthrough. Claudio in Measure for Measure, talking to his sister of his fear of death.

“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where…” I recall vividly the sudden realisation when the concept in the words began to strike me: his living body to turn to earth in “This sensible warm motion to become a kneaded clod…” and where his spirit might roam in “To bathe in fiery floods… to be imprisoned in the viewless winds, and blown with restless violence round about this pendent world…”

All at once Shakepeare ceased to be strange phrasing and weird words. The ideas leapt out at me, couched in rhythmic and beautifully descriptive language. From that point on, I grew to understand and love Shakespeare and could read it, understand it, and, later on when I began to direct and teach drama (especially at A level) to inculcate that same understanding and love of Shakespeare in my students.

For the uninitiated, there are two things to remember about Shakespeare. Firstly, the reason his plays have lasted for 500 years is that he knew what makes people tick. Secondly, if he was missing the precise word to express what he wanted, he made one up. He added hundreds of words to the language and many of his phrases have become idioms and sayings in common English, used by us all.

If you want to tackle Shakespeare, the first thing is to hit the glossary, or better still, a Shakespeare dictionary. Don’t get too hung up on poetic and old-fashioned common words like thee, thou, yon, whither, wherefore, thus, doth, dost (both from “do”), nay, ay, wouldst, couldst etc. It doesn’t take long to get a handle on them as they pop up all the time.

Once you know what the words mean, you can get to grips with the construction of the language. Since most of Shakespeare’s plays use blank verse form, you need to forget about straightforward English and expect to find topsy-turvy sentence structure to accommodate the rhythms of the text.

With “Call you me fair?” we might now say “Are you calling me fair?” The word “fair” here means beautiful, so a modern idiomatic sentence might be “Are you saying I’m beautiful?”

It always pays to take time to turn the old man’s words into idiomatic modern speech, because once you understand what is being said, the old-fashioned words and constructions become meaningful. For this you need to ignore the rhythms and the verse structure, and concentrate on the punctuation which may well roll into the next verse line in order to make sense.

“O, teach me how you look, and with what art
You sway the motion of Demetrius’s heart.”

Simply put, this means: “I wish you would show me what feminine tricks you’re using to make Demetrius fall in love with you.” (Understood here is the idea of “how you look” meaning “the way you look at him”.)

“Do I entice you? Do I speak you fair?
Or rather do I not in plainest truth
Tell you I do not nor I cannot love you?”

He’s saying here: “Have I come on to you? Am I nice to you? No, I’m perfectly honest with you when I tell you I don’t and can’t love you.” (Fair here means “nicely” rather than “beautiful”.)

I once had my students do a scene from Richard III in modern speech, immediately followed by the same scene in the original Shakespeare. The audience were thus able to get the archaic language because they already understood the scene, which made for a better appreciation of the beauty of Shakespeare’s version.

Immediately you make the connection with modern idiom, you also discover how the emotions of Shakespearian characters are no different from ours. The situations may be different since his world is often peopled by kings, queens and princes. But the essential human conflict might have come straight out of Eastenders.

Shakespeare deals in the common problems of life and the difficult emotional battles we deal with every day: doubt, fear, pain, grief, love and hate, wrapped up in themes we all recognise and understand. Jealousy, betrayal, honour, faithfulness or faithlessness, ambition, greed, sorrow, joy, triumph, winning and losing - you name it, Shakespeare has written about it.

The key to understanding the Bard is not to be intimidated or fooled by the language. Don’t allow the reverence to make it sacrosanct. Treating Shakespeare like everyday speech is the surest route to appreciating his genius. After all, he was writing for an audience of ordinary people, mostly illiterate, who came to the theatre to be entertained, and Shakespeare gave them in full measure all the emotional highs and lows we expect from any drama on TV.

Elizabeth Bailey 

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 fiancĂ©e, 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