Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Fabulous Treasure!


The other week I was driving up to Scotland – a journey which takes almost six hours from my house – and wanted to have a break halfway to stretch my legs, so I had a great idea.  I remembered that a few years ago, in 2009, there was a lot of talk on the news about a treasure found in a field in Staffordshire by a man with a metal detector.  It became known as the Staffordshire Hoard and consisted of over 1600 items made of gold, silver and garnets.  The main part of this hoard is now in Birmingham, but some of it is in the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, which was on my way so I decided to stop there – I can never resist treasure of any kind.  And I am so glad I did as it was simply amazing!

Displayed in a special room with a time line for the Saxon period, dates of important events, explanations and even a mock-Saxon hall complete with chieftain’s chair and a pretend hearth, it's a very interesting exhibition, although there was only a small percentage of the items from the hoard.  But what there was almost took my breath away as the objects were so beautifully crafted.

Found not far from an old Roman road, the so called Watling Street, the treasure is thought to have been buried in the 7th century.  The entire hoard was mostly made up of fragments of things – sword hilts, parts of helmets, fittings from horses’ harnesses and the like, but the objects were not haphazard, they'd been collected together on purpose.  Although the metal was twisted or bent out of shape, as if someone had just gathered it as scrap metal, that doesn't seem to have been the case, even if it's what the owner intended to use it for – simply sell the pieces for their value as metal and precious stones.  It was almost exclusively warrior’s gear, so may have been collected from a battle field or taken as loot after a victory in battle.  No one knows and as there is no other find like it to compare it to, perhaps we will never find out why it was buried.

The museum curators have now straightened out some of the items and even the ones that are still twisted were impressive.  The craftsmanship is exquisite, with some of the filigree gold work so tiny and fine you can barely see it with the naked eye.  At the museum there were magnifying glasses to help you see better, but it made me wonder how on earth the goldsmiths had managed to make these items in the first place.  They must have had amazing eyesight!

A lot of the decorations featured animals, which had special meaning to the Saxons:  birds like eagles or Odin’s ravens symbolising victory, boars possibly for protection, horses which were invaluable to them and snakes for healing and magic.  There was a small golden snake which I found absolutely gorgeous and wouldn’t have minded owning myself!

I particularly liked the items that were set with garnets though – the deep, sparkling red a wonderful contrast to the gold around them.  The Saxon goldsmiths had a special technique to make them glitter even more – underneath each stone they put a sort of waffle-patterned foil which reflected the light.  The warriors who owned the swords and other things with this type of decoration must have been very rich indeed and I’m sure they treasured their possessions.  These were weapons meant to impress and they still do.  In one corner of the room stood a warrior figure, complete with Saxon clothing, and I could see him in my mind running into battle with his beautiful sword and seax (knife) or sitting by that hearth polishing them.

The so called Dark Ages were obviously anything but and the people who lived then appreciated the beauty of the things their extremely skilled craftsmen made.  This unique hoard is helping us to understand more about the Saxons and I, for one, am totally in awe.  They were quite simply astonishing and I am now very tempted to write a novel set in this era!  It will have to join the queue though ...

Christina x



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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Scandal at Pemberley

http://amzn.to/1zFlqSz (uk)http://amzn.to/1DHctvY (.com)
The second installment of my 'At Pemberley' series is now published on Amazon. I'm hoping to add to this series every year and the next book is already in the planning stage.
This book features Mary Bennet and so I have decided that because of her reprehensible behaviour Mary shall not get a book of her own. (You will have to read the book to see what she gets up to.)
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it. Although this is the second volume in this series it is, like the fist one, 'The Ghosts at Pemberley', a stand alone title

Blurb for A Scandal at Pemberley.
A Scandal at Pemberley is Georgiana Darcy and Major Jonathan Brownstone's story. The major is to be groomsman for his best friend, Adam King, when he marries Kitty Bennet at Pemberley. Georgiana is about to embark on her first Season, but after meeting Jonathan she is having doubts about going. As Lizzy is expecting twins Darcy can't accompany his sister but is happy for his new brother-in-law to stand guardian in his stead. 

When George Wickham arrives uninvited at Pemberley, he sets in motion a chain of events that could cause a scandal from which none of the family would recover.

Fenella J Miller

Monday, April 13, 2015

Waterloo in a nutshell



I’ve been taken up with two anniversaries that fall this year. The first one is the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo.
Although I tell people I write books set in the Georgian period, my real speciality is the earlier period, the 1750’s. So when I was asked to write a couple of novellas to help commemorate the event, I had a lot of research to do. And what fun it was! Of course I do have quite a lot of information on the Regency, since I’ve written books set in that time before, but the details of Waterloo, the nitty-gritty, are fascinating. The letters, records and accounts are legion, especially in this bicentenary year.
At university I had to read Thompson’s “Europe Since Napoleon,” which is still as interesting as it ever was, but my real interests lay in the lives of the people, how it affected them and what they did afterwards.
So I plunged into letters and newspapers. Utterly riveting. I could have read for a long time, but I had books to write!
I decided on a medical theme. The first book has more of a medical background, concerned with a surgeon and his nurse who are forced by circumstances into marriage. But with similar ideals it was only a matter of time before they found their way into each other’s hearts. The second is about a war hero who has what we would call PTSD, a little understood condition at the time. Just because they couldn’t put a name to it, didn’t mean they didn'tt experience it. From the Berserkers of the Dark Ages to the present day, traumatic events have triggered unfortunate responses in some people. So how did they cope with it back then, after Waterloo? Mostly by telling people to pull themselves together, which was no help at all.
I thought it might help to have a quick overview of the battle, and why it was so important. With the plethora of books to commemorate the battle, most either concentrate on a small part of it or go into huge detail, which might be fascinating for me, but isn’t necessarily what the regular reader, somebody who wants a general background, might be looking for. I just ask for some indulgence from my fellow historians, who will doubtless wince at my ruthless elimination of events in my attempt at a broad overview.
Waterloo was a terrible battle. There were thousands of men on each side, with their women, children, camp followers and support staff like medics all waiting anxiously for the outcome. The figures often given are 68,000 British and Allied troops against 74,000 French, and the official date is 18th June 1815.
But like most messy events involving real people, this doesn’t tell anywhere near the whole story. There were skirmishes before and after, for instance. Nobody shouted “Start!” and “Stop!” at the beginning and end. In charge of the armies were the Duke of Wellington, a brilliant strategist who had turned the fortunes of the Peninsula War around, and Napoleon, a self-aggrandising man, but also brilliant. There are no reliable recorded instances of Wellington meeting Napoleon. That leaves the field nicely free for the novelist because there were many chances for them to do so. The other intriguing thing is that Waterloo was the first time Wellington and Napoleon faced each other on the field of battle.
Wellington was cold in his interpersonal relationships. He hated war, and tried to minimize losses to his men. Napoleon threw men at the enemy, treating them as disposable cannon-fodder.
The battle was further complicated by a torrential downpour the day before, that turned the battlefield into a churning mass of mud and made the quick charges that the Hussars specialised in even more difficult than they were already.
On the 15th June, Napoleon took position by ejecting the Allies at Charleroi, but although Wellington knew of it, he wasn’t yet sure that this was the main thrust of Napoleon’s army, so he kept a watching brief on it. He didn’t want to commit his army before knowing that another flank wasn’t going to attack from somewhere else. He was also waiting for Marshall Blucher and his troops to arrive for the main engagement. The Prince of Orange’s army was involved in the skirmishes before and during, but not the main battle itself.
He heard about the attack on the 16th June, at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. The speed of Napoleon’s advance shocked him into taking action. Wellington’s army could be overrun.
The start of the battle was signalled by a fight at the crossroads of Quatre Bras. In a way this indicated how the rest of the battle would go. A narrow victory for the Allies at a terrible cost. First the French won, then when Wellington sent reinforcements, the Allies won.
By the end of the 17th, the British army was in position, with Blucher around 7 miles away.
On the late morning of the 18th, the French attacked the house at Hougoumont, where Wellington had stationed some of his vanguard. The other fortified position, at the farmhouse at La Haye Sainte, was attacked a few hours later. The French managed to cut it off from the rest of the army. By around two pm, it looked like the French were winning.
Then the British cavalry moved in. Although Napoleon’s army had the superior reputation, the mud helped to make things a bit more equal. No horse, however skilled, can move fast when its hooves are deeply embedded in thick mud.
After that, came the infantry’s turn. When Napoleon attacked, Wellington formed the infantry into squares, with the cavalry in the center.
Then Wellington regained the farmouse at La Haye Sainte and the tide started to turn. The Prussians arrived and helped to reinforce an exhausted British army.
Napoleon finally committed his precious Imperial Guard. This was his last throw. By the time dusk had fallen the French army was in disarray and the day was won.
But as I said earlier, they didn’t just stop. It was a bit like putting out a big fire. They had to set a watch and cover the skirmishes and final flickerings of the great French army.
Like Wellington said, it was a damned near-run thing.
On the 24th June, Napoleon abdicated, and a few weeks after, was once again in custody, this time until the day he died.
After Waterloo? Britain went into economic depression, a lull that was only redressed when the middle class began its inexorable rise to wealth and influence. Lines and frontiers were redrawn. After Waterloo, nothing was ever the same again.

Lynne's books, "It Started at Waterloo" and "Dreaming of Waterloo" will be out in June, in time for the commemoration of the battle. 
https://www.samhainpublishing.com/book/5465/it-started-at-waterloo
"Dreaming of Waterloo" is part of a box set, and will be out soon.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Janice Preston - From Wallflower to Countess

 We are delighted to welcome Janice Preston to the blog. She is here talking about her new Regency romance, From Wallflower to Countess. Over to you, Janice!



I am grateful to the regular contributors to Historical and Regency Romance for inviting me onto the blog to talk about my second Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon, From Wallflower to Countess, which is out now.

I first met the hero, Richard, Earl of Stanton, several years ago when he was a drop dead gorgeous secondary character in my first ever attempt at writing a Regency romance. That attempt has not yet seen the light of day, but I always knew Richard would have his own story one day. I had no idea which lucky lady would share his journey until, one day, he ran up the stairs in his shirtsleeves and came face-to-face with an unprepossessing but sparky spinster who had absolutely no intention of ever getting married, preferring instead to focus her energies on her charity work.
One year on from that meeting, Lady Felicity Weston’s fear of unrequited love is as strong as ever but her future looks bleak when her widowed mother remarries. She begs her mother to find her a quiet, unremarkable gentleman with whom she might be content, little realising she will end up with Richard, Society’s most eligible bachelor and darling of the ton.

I had great fun writing about the arranged marriage between Richard and Felicity and how they help each other reveal and eventually resolve their emotional conflicts on their journey to true love.

Here is an excerpt:

‘This is ridiculous. You are right. If we are to wed, we need to understand one another. And I admit I have doubts. Not about you. Well, that is…’ She paused, her brows drawn together in a frown. ‘No, that is untrue. It is about you, but it is about me, also. You and me. Together. You see, I hadn’t thought…I never presumed to be presented with such a…such a…catch, if you do not object to my calling you that?’
Richard bit back a smile. He had been called a catch many times, he was aware, but never to his face before. And never by an earnest-faced female who appeared to believe herself unworthy of a ‘catch’ such as he.
‘You may call me what you will,’ he said, ‘as long as you promise not to use such insultingly offensive terms that I shall be forced to take umbrage.’
She laughed, revealing a glimpse of white teeth. ‘Umbrage? I always thought that to be a state applied to elderly dowagers. Do you sporting gentlemen consider it a fittingly masculine trait, my lord?’
This was better. The spirited girl he remembered from last year had surfaced, her face alive with laughter, her eyes bright.
‘Perhaps umbrage does not quite convey the precise meaning I hoped,’ he conceded. ‘Which word, in your opinion, should I have used, if I am to portray a suitably manly image to my future wife?’
Disquiet skimmed her expression, then vanished. Had he imagined it? Was it the bald reminder that she would be his wife that had disturbed her? Her countenance was now neutral, but her eyes remained watchful and she made no attempt to answer him.
‘Would you have preferred me to use “offence” perhaps, or “exception”?’ He leaned closer to her, and said, ‘I do not, you notice, suggest “outrage” for that, I fear, would not meet with your approval any more than “umbrage”. It is too synonymous with spinsters, would you not—?’
Felicity stiffened. ‘Do not make fun of me, sir. I may be a spinster and, therefore, in your eyes a poor, undesired thing, but I have feelings and I have pride.’
‘Felicity, I promise I intended no slight. The thought never crossed my mind that you might think I was making fun of you. I was…I was… Oh, confound it! Come here.’
He had run out of words. He clasped her shoulders and drew her close. A finger beneath her chin tilted her face to his. He searched her eyes. They were shuttered. She was rigid in his arms. Was she scared? Had she never known a man’s kiss? The thought, strangely, pleased him: knowing his wife had never experienced another man’s touch. But he must take care not to frighten her. He lowered his head, slowly, and put his lips to hers.
He almost recoiled in shock. He had expected ice. What he felt was fire.


If you’re interested in finding out more about me and my writing, please visit me on www.janicepreston.co.uk, where you can also read Chapter 1 of From Wallflower to Countess.

Thanks, Janice! The book looks wonderful. We're sure our blog readers will enjoy it.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Lure of Gardens

Recently, I was thrilled to be invited to the Bloggers’ Breakfast at the Queen’s Gallery for the opening of their new exhibition, Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, which looks at four centuries of royal gardens through paintings and objects in the Royal Collection.
 
1.     The welcome tea urn
We were invited for 8.30 am – only one and a half hours before the public opening – and offered tea, coffee, fruit juice and a choice of the most delicious croissants. As we arrived, the finishing touches were being done to the trellis and flowers on either side of the entrance; we learned that everyone had worked late into the night to get the exhibition ready. They were obviously successful – it was immaculate.
 
2.     Finishing touches
The curators then showed us round, told us what they wanted to get across in the exhibition, how they had set about it, talked us through the highlights and gave us the behind-the-scenes stories. It’s a fabulous exhibition and I thoroughly recommend it, but, for this post, I’m concentrating on those objects which I thought might interest writers of Georgian and Regency romances, like Queen Mary II’s delightful blue and white tulip vases designed to display rare (and expensive) tulips.
I decided that the tulip vases had definite dramatic possibilities. The hero’s formidable grandmother, the Dowager Duchess, owns a pair of tulip vases which are her pride and joy. The heroine, Araminta, a sweet-natured girl but badly bullied by her shrewish elder sister, becomes disastrously clumsy whenever she’s nervous …  I’m sure you see what I mean.
 
3.     Tulip vase (1702)
By the mid-18th century, the formality of Tudor and Stuart gardens was being superseded by a more natural look, with landscaping by garden designers such as ‘Capability’ Brown and his successor, Humphry Repton. In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Mr Rushworth declares himself eager to ‘improve’ his family home, Southerton Court. ‘Your best friend upon such an occasion,’ said Miss Bertram, calmly, ‘would be Mr Repton, I imagine.’ And Mr Rushworth lets drop that Repton charges ‘five guineas a day’ (£5.25), a stupendous amount of money, considering that a farm worker at Southerton would be lucky to earn ten shillings (50p) a week.
 
4.     The Gardens at Kew by Johan Jacob Schalch, 1759
Repton would turn the formality of Southerton’s avenue of trees and the wood (which is famously locked) into the epitome of classical elegance with specially-created lakes, accessible stands of noble trees, ornamental bridges, ‘classical’ temples and Greek statues, so that Mr Rushworth’s guests could wander at will. Plenty of scope for romance and intrigue there.
The Painting Paradise exhibition has a number of delightful watercolours from the 18th century, with gardeners going about their everyday work, such as the gardener’s boy with his watering can at Windsor Castle by one of my favourite artists, Paul Sandby. The boy, indeed, is almost part of the natural look himself.
 
5.     Norman Gateway and Moat Garden, Windsor Castle, watercolour by Paul Sandby, 1770
The exhibition also celebrates the arrival of thousands of new plants, starting as a trickle in the 16th century and becoming a flood by the 19th century. Plant designs now appear everywhere: on china, like the Chelsea porcelain below above; in the Fabergé jewel flowers which have a case of their own; as well as in the botanical prints on display.
 
6.     Chelsea porcelain, 1755
Moving slightly out of period, I’m including a few of the Victorian pieces of jewellery in the exhibition, also inspired by flowers. The fuchsia earrings and pendant (below) were made for Queen Victoria. The outer petals curling up are gold-mounted enamel; the central petals, however, are Princess Beatrice’s milk teeth!
 
7.     Fuchsia earrings and pendant, Garrard, 1864.
I loved Queen Victoria’s orange flowers headdress. The Queen wore a real orange flower wreath, symbolising chastity, for her wedding in 1840; and, in 1846, Prince Albert gave her the headdress, which is made of porcelain, gold, enamel and velvet, with silk ribbons, and completed the set over the following few years.
 
8.     Parure, Garrard, 1846
And lastly, the beautifully-decorated flower fan, made for Queen Victoria’s birthday, which was a gift from her eldest daughter, Victoria, the Princess Royal. The flowers, painted by the princess herself when she was only fifteen, were specially chosen to spell out VICTORIA: violets, iris, cornflower, convolvulus and corn ears, tulip and thistle, orange blossom, roses, ivy and auricula. She was obviously very talented.
 
9.     Fan, 1856. Leather leaves with mother of pearl and ivory.
 I have only been able to cover a fraction of the wonderful things in this interesting and inspiring exhibition. There is surely something for everyone here. In fact, I lingered after the general public had come in to make sure I’d chosen the right items for this post. Painting Paradise is on at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, until 11th October. www.royalcollection.org.uk
Photos:
1, 2, 3 and 6 by Elizabeth Hawksley
4, 5, 7, 8, and 9, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
Elizabeth Hawksley
 

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Friday, April 03, 2015

INSPIRATION - AND THREE CRACKING STORIES!




Over ten years ago I visited the battlefield at Waterloo and since then I have wanted to write a story based around the events at Waterloo in 1815. 

One of the places I visited was Hougoumont, a chateau/farmstead that was key to the defence of the Allied position and where thousands of soldiers from both sides died. It was in a parlous state then, and Project Hougoumont was set up to try and restore the site in time for the 200th anniversary of the battle in 2015. 

To support the project the Waterloo Collection was devised, a series of paintings depicting key scenes from the battle of Waterloo.  The paintings were commissioned in pairs to show the scene from both sides and prints were published by Steve Stanton and sold to raise funds for Hougoumont.  Steve kindly gave me permission to show two of the prints here – the two that provided the inspiration for my forthcoming book, A Lady for Lord Randall.
Mercer's Battery withstanding a charge from Napoleon's Grenadier a Cheval of the Guard. Waterloo 1815

Mercer's troop was stationed in the thick of the action and fought off repeated charges by the French Cavalry. It was the norm for the artillerymen to shelter inside the nearby infantry squares when a cavalry charge took place, but Mercer realised that the squares were manned by inexperienced soldiers and he feared they would break up if they saw the artillery men running for cover, so he disobeyed orders and kept his men in place while the cavalry charged them. Despite his foreign-sounding title Mercer was actually born in Yorkshire, survived to serve many years and died in Devon in 1868.


The images are quite dark, but remember the battlefield was covered with a pall of smoke from the constant firing.  If you look closely at the painting on the left you can see an artilleryman lying wounded on the ground.  When I first saw these pictures I wanted to include this scene in my book and I imagined that this man could be my own hero, Lord Randall, blown off his feet.

So, I had the germ of an idea. I got in touch with two of Harlequin's top historical authors and we decided to write a trilogy, and thus the Brides of Waterloo was born.  We first put our proposal to Harlequin in July 2012 and now, finally, our books are ready to be published to coincide with the Bicentenary of Waterloo.

My novel, A LADY FOR LORD RANDALL,
 is the first and will be published next month.




Then Annie Burrows' A MISTRESS FOR MAJOR BARTLETT follows in June



 and Louise Allen's A ROSE FOR MAJOR FLINT completes the trilogy in July.









And finally back to Hougoumont. I am delighted to say the chateau has now been restored and I was thrilled when I discovered that our lovely cover designers have used it for the backdrop. A Lady for Lord Randall (much of which takes place before the battle) shows Hougoumont intact, A Mistress for Major Bartlett shows it in flames and A Rose for Major Flint shows the chateau as a ruin. A very poignant touch, I think.


Annie, Louise and I had great fun writing these three stories and we hope you enjoy reading them. My thanks to Steve Stanton for allowing me to show you these prints and you can find more information about Project Hougoumont and the Waterloo Collection on Facebook or at the website addresses below:-
http://www.projecthougoumont.com 
http://www.waterloo-collection.com


Sarah Mallory/Melinda Hammond



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