Thursday, November 13, 2014

Why the classics?

Writing a series bringing the Roman gods to life in Georgian Britain has given me a few headaches, but on the whole the blend has been perfect. I can’t believe how well it’s going, and last week I was offered a contract for another, so I’m not the only one!
But once I looked into the period and the whole history of classical studies, it was such a good fit, I couldn’t resist. The Georgian era actually saw a huge revival in the study of the ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome, culminating in the rejection of all things Roccocco in France after the Revolution and the Republic claiming the classical culture as its own.
The Classics had never been forgotten, of course. The story of Anthony and Cleopatra, for instance, had been repeated by playwrights. In the Florence of the fifteenth century, the Neoplatonist scholars had been enormously influential on their culture, and that spread to Rome and through Europe.
Probably the first important indication that classicism was returning was the building of St. Pauls’ Cathedral in the classic style, instead of the gothic church it replaced. Important because everybody could see it. It wasn’t a study stuck in a library somewhere, or passed around erudite circles. There it was—an instant landmark. Before that, Inigo Jones had made a mark in the sand with the Banqueting House, but classicism meant something very different then.
For most of the eighteenth century, Palladio’s vision ruled when new buildings were being constructed, especially the grander ones. He designed a gorgeous little villa just outside Rome that everyone aspired to. So the great country house was typically “Palladian.”
The Grand Tour encouraged young men of good family to travel abroad to further their education. Many went on a spending spree, and bought busts, and statues of varying quality and authenticity to send home. Some engaged in more scholarly pursuits (and some didn’t, but that’s an entirely different story!) And then, in the 1750’s, they discovered Pompeii.
What the first explorers did is enough to make a modern archaeologist spit blood. They were essentially treasure hunters. They stripped the paintings from the walls, took the artefacts and didn’t record where they found them, and didn’t fully explore an area before they went on to the next one. Karl Weber and Francesco la Vega both made extensive studies, with drawings, which they published. Information was disseminated, and the classic designs of Palladio were replaced by the “purer” vision of the Adam brothers. Plus the colours. Previously, classic statues and remains had been stripped of the colour that the ancient Romans and Greeks had put on them. People were used to marble statues with blank eyes, which were often copies of bronze originals. Bronze, being an expensive commodity, was often melted down and reused, while the marble copies were more permanent, if of lesser quality. And white. So white.
Pompeii revealed the vivid colours the ancients often used, the terracottas, blues and blacks, and it came as a distinct shock to the eighteenth century scholar. But not to the designers, particularly Robert Adam, who leaped on them and used them to great effect in places like Osterley Park in London.
Is it any surprise that when I put my gods and goddesses into London ballrooms, they felt completely at home?

Mad for Love,” the story of Bacchus and his Ariadne, is available for pre-order now, and will be released on November 18th from Samhain and all major ebook outlets. Print will follow.Here's the Amazon link.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Crowns through the Ages

This week I visited the Tower of London to see both the World War I poppy installation and also to go on a tour of the Tower itself. My favourite part of the day (other than seeing the extraordinary and poignant poppy display) was an exhibition called Crowns through the Ages. These spanned the Georgian and Victorian eras and it was fascinating to see them.

The earliest crown on display had been worn by George I at his coronation in 1714. George decided
to have a new crown made as Charles II’s crown from 1661 was in a poor state of repair and George also wanted to make a statement of “new dynasty, new crown.” It was set with stones of glass and paste rather than precious jewels but in 1727 these were removed and diamonds were hired especially for the coronation of George II. I was fascinated to see how many diamonds they had brought in for this purpose and wondered where you would source such a huge pile of precious stones!  I could imagine the lenders counting them in and counting them out again very carefully.

George III recycled the crown but his son George IV had a new diamond crown made for his coronation. It was the most lavish in the collection (why does that not surprise me?!) but again the diamonds were borrowed and although George was determined that the government should buy them he failed to convince parliament that it was worth the expense. Because of the frugal tradition of hiring rather than buying the gems, most of the crowns in the exhibition were therefore set with false stones or were just empty frames, which was interesting to see but rather sad.

My favourite crown was that of a Queen Consort, Adelaide, wife of William IV. This had been made especially for he coronation in 1831 because the previous crown, that of Mary of Modena, second wife of James II, was considered too “theatrical.” Adelaide’s crown was a gorgeous, rich scarlet velvet that looked beautiful with the silver. The other thing that struck me from looking at Adelaide’s crown and that of Queen Victoria was what small heads they must have had!

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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Lure of Buried Treasure

The Regency world was just as much in love with the exotic as we are today. For example, in 1810, The Morning Chronicle proclaimed that, 'dress is daily flying from Greek simplicity to Eastern magnificence.' There was a craze for all things Egyptian; the Prince Regent went wild for Chinoiserie in the Brighton Pavilion. 1820s dress took on a Gothic look. So I make no apology for introducing something exotic this month.

1. Gold from Thracian tombs, Museum of History, Sofia.

I've just returned from Bulgaria, a beautiful country with a wealth of historical treasures, where I was bowled over by its spectacular Thracian tombs. If Catherine Morland had known about them, I'm sure she'd have been bowled over, too! At least, that's my excuse for this post.

The Thracians came from the Russian steppes in about 3000 BC, bringing Bronze Age technology with them. They colonized the country and buried their kings in huge, highly visible, tumuli, called tells which still dot the landscape.

2. The Countryside around the tell at Kazanluk. The slop of the tell is on the left.

Each tell covers a royal tomb, usually constructed of mortared stones. A door from the world of the living leads to a passageway with chambers off for grave goods - those objects that the king would need in the afterlife. The passage itself leads to a round burial chamber with a domed ceiling. There is a raised stone bed for the body and the chamber is often beautifully decorated with friezes.

3. Frieze from the Alexandrovo tomb, c. 4th C BC. Thracian Art Museum of the Eastern Rodopes

The Royal tomb at Sveshtari from 300 BC is slightly different in that the passage was and chambers are vaulted and the burial chamber has a delightful stone bas relief  of caryatids which were once painted. There are still touches of paint of their belts. Unfortunately, the tomb was robbed in antiquity but it still exudes a feeling of peace and serenity.

4. Caryatids from the Royal Tomb at Sveshtari

What really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, however, was the horses and chariot burial at Kartanovo - Catherine Morland would have loved it! It is early Thracian and dates from the 2nd millennium BC. The Municipality of Nova Zagora had the brilliant idea of building a museum round the still ongoing excavations, leaving the burial half-excavated so that visitors can have the thrill of seeing them as they were found. 

5. Horses and chariot burial, Historical Museum, Nova Zagora.

So, what about the treasure? The Museums of History and Archaeology in Sofia have some spectacular examples of Thracian gold (see top photo) and silver. I particularly liked the gold triple-leaf shaped bowls. What were they for? How were they used? The gold cups, too, with their elegant handles are just beautiful and the workmanship is top quality.

Sofia started life as a settlement of the Thracian Serdi tribe from at least the 2nd century BC.. It became part of the Roman Empire in 40 AD as Serdica. It is not surprising, therefore, that later Thracian grave goods show Greek influence, as in the silver rhytons (curved drinking vessels) below. One of the rhytons ends in a helmeted and bearded male torso with wings and the forelegs of a horse. Another ends in a horse, a Thracian symbol of power and prestige.

6. Silver treasure, Museum of History, Sofia.

And who wouldn't want this beautiful jewellery? I spent some time choosing which piece I'd like. I just loved the earrings at the bottom right, though I'd be very happy with any of the items. I wonder what Catherine Morland would have chosen.

7. Jewellery, Museum of Archaeology, Sofia 

I travelled with Andante Travels, a small company which specializes in archaeological and historical tours, often off the beaten track - usually with spectacular scenery and, if you travel in April, you catch the spring flowers, too!

Elizabeth Hawksley

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Monday, November 03, 2014

'Tis the Season.....

Amanda's post reminded me that the Festive season us almost here and most of us will be socialising more than usual, partying, visiting family and generally enjoying ourselves.  It was the same in the Regency, although their Christmas celebrations were slightly different to ours. There were no cards and probably no Christmas tree (Queen Charlotte had introduced a Christmas tree for her family by the Regency, but it didn't become popular until the Victorian era) and Father Christmas had not yet arrived.

However, there was a great deal of feasting and partying with lots of dancing and games such as forfeits and apple bobbling. Houses were decked with evergreens and of course a mistletoe bough. There were Christmas carols, the mummers might turn up to entertain a household and the telling of hair-raising ghost stories was a traditional treat. There might also be gifts given and received, but only on a small scale. 

A prosperous family might enjoy brandy, rum and madeira or even arrack (a sweet liqueur from the West Indies).  And they might find jugged pigeons on the dining table. The pigeons were stuffed and fitted into an earthenware pot, the lid sealed and the pot put into a pan of boiling water for at least 3 hours.  The pigeons were then removed into a warm dish and the remaining juices thickened with butter and flour to make a sauce.  This might be followed by a possett made from eggs, cream and spices, or an equally sweet pudding again made with cream sugar and eggs but this time with flour and butter too, and flavoured with rosewater. Or perhaps they might prefer a syllabub – made by mixing (even more) cream, sugar, brandy and sherry with the juice and rind of a lemon and then adding milk straight from the cow (yes, literally, the bowl was placed on the floor and the cow "milked" directly into it). If you didn't happen to have a cow handy you could pour the warm milk from a height into the bowl!
I like the idea of the syllabub, but if you don't mind, I think I will stick to roast chicken again this Christmas!
Journey's End by Maurice Bishop

Of course, with all this entertaining, a word of warning may be needed for the "youth of both sexes" about their behaviour.  From The Gentleman and Lady's Companion, Norwich, 1798, here are a few instances of ill manners to be avoided:-

  • ·         Omitting the proper attention, when waited on by superiors
  • ·         Passing between the fire and persons sitting at it
  • ·         Whispering or pointing in company and standing between the light and any person wanting it
  • ·         Contradicting your parents or strangers who are in any way engaged in conversation
  • ·         Laughing loudly when in company, and drumming with feet or hands
  • ·         Throwing things instead of handing them and crowding others in a passage, or running against their elbows
  • ·         Leaning on the shoulder or chair of another person and overlooking persons who are writing or reading
  • ·         All instances of that ill-judged familiarity which breeds contempt
  • ·         Lolling on a chair when speaking or when spoken to and looking persons earnestly in the face without apparent cause
  • ·         Ridicule of every kind, vice or folly
  • ·         A constant smile or settled frown on the countenance.

So there you have it, Christmas, Regency style. I am off now to find a cow to put in the garage!

Melinda Hammond

Melinda Hammond: The Christmas Travellers -  A Regency Short story, published on Kindle.
Sarah Mallory: Never Trust a Rebel –  published September 2014 by Harlequin

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Jane Austen-inspired Christmas books

I think people fall into two camps where Christmas is concerned. Some people love it and some people think Bah, humbug! I'm one of those people who love it. The shops look so cheerful with all their bright displays, and in England they are already starting to fill with the sights and smells of Christmas. I enjoy reading Christmas books, too. I adore all the classic novels such as A Christmas Carol, and I also like to read about traditions in Regency England. I have a wonderful book called Jane Austen's Christmas, which I browse through every year as I remind myself of the customs Jane Austen enjoyed.

There's a good selection of novels for readers who love their Christmas books to revolve around Jane Austen's characters. In Jane Austen's time, the celebrations lasted until well after Christmas, and Twelfth Night was a big occasion. It often involved a masquerade and marked the end of the Christmas celebrations. Two of the most recent books about characters from Pride and Prejudice are centred around the twelve days of Christmas. For those unfamiliar with this kind of book, they invent new stories for Jane Austen's characters. There is something for everyone, whether you're looking for a new story about Elizabeth and Darcy, or Kitty Bennet, or perhaps a time slip or a modern Austen-inspired story.

Jennifer Lang's book sees Elizabeth fleeing from her husband, George Wickham, and taking refuge with Charlotte. Mr Darcy, having inherited Rosings on the deaths of Lady Catherine and Anne de Bourgh, finds a frightened young woman living in the parsonage. Her perfume reminds him of the Netherfield ball. But can the young woman in the parsonage really be the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet? And what will happen when he falls in love with her? 

Maria Grace's book Twelfth Night at Longbourn, centres around Kitty Bennet and follows her over a Christmas in London. In the months after her sisters' weddings, nothing has gone well for Kitty Bennet. Since Lydia’s infamous elopement, her friends have abandoned her, and Longbourn is more prison than home. Not even Elizabeth's new status as Mrs. Darcy of Pemberley can repair the damage to Kitty’s reputation. More than anything else, she wishes to leave the plain ordinary Kitty behind and become Catherine Bennet, a proper young lady.

Maria Grace shared a few of her thoughts about her delightful book with us: "The thing I love about this story is that while writing it, I knew it had to be a Christmas/Twelfth Night story but I didn’t know why until I got to the very end. Then I saw that the plot twist—for a happily-ever-after or course—could only have happened on Twelfth Night. That made it a little magical and very special to me." I'm sure Maria Grace's many fans will agree!

The two books below are set in different time periods, showing the wealth of variety open to Austenesque fiction lovers. Jane Odiwe's book , Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar, is about a young woman, Lizzie Benson, who visits Jane Austen's house in Chawton and buys an advent calendar in the gift shop. But when she opens the first door of the calendar, she finds herself back in time with the characters from Pride and Prejudice.

Victoria Connelly's book Christmas with Mr Darcy, has a modern-day Christmas party with a group of Austen fans. Christmas is being celebrated in style at Purley Hall in Hampshire because renowned actress, Dame Pamela Harcourt, is holding a special Jane Austen Conference. But, when a rare first edition of Pride and Prejudice goes missing, the guests have to forget the fun and games and turn detective...

If you have a favourite Austen-inspired Christmas book, or if you've written one, or are writing one, please tell us about it in the comments below.

Amanda Grange

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A new slide show

Like many other people, I love making slide shows. This one features some of our recent books, but the Animoto slide show tool is very easy to use and could be used for family photos or other similar things. I think it would be a good way of displaying completed craft projects or artwork. Does anyone else use it? If so, what for?

Click play to see a selection of our books

Amanda Grange

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar

I've had such a lot of fun writing my Christmas novella, Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar. I love Advent calendars, and have collected them since I was a little girl, and still get excited choosing one for Christmas. I especially love the traditional ones with pictures behind the doors and windows, though I quite like a chocolate one too!
It was the German calendars I really loved when I was young, which depicted snowy villages, glittering with other tantalising  worlds behind the doors, giving glimpses into the houses of girls and boys who lived a different life to me that made them so special.
Thinking about the magic those pictures in the traditional calendars used to create as a child, gave me the idea to combine some of my favourite loves - Jane Austen, Christmas, Advent calendars, magic, time travel, and Pride and Prejudice. It's as close as I'll ever get to writing a romantic Christmas fantasy! If you'd like to read Chapter One please click here.

Lizzy Benson visits Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, and buys a special advent calendar in the gift shop, but strange things start to happen when she opens up the first door and finds herself back in time with all the beloved characters from her favourite book, Pride and Prejudice. As she finds herself increasingly drawn into an alternate reality, Lizzy discovers not only is Mr Darcy missing from the plot, but also that Jane Austen has never heard of him. All Lizzy can hope is that she can help to get the story and her own complicated love life back on track before Christmas is over, and bring everything to a happy resolution in Jane Austen's imaginary world!

It's a variation on Jane Austen's book, Pride and Prejudice, in which she stars herself, and there is a chapter for every day of the Advent season. It's been lovely to indulge in the impossible, mixing up all my favourite things about Jane Austen, Christmas and time travel.
I've had a lovely time creating a pinterest page for this book - it's a great way of 'getting in the mood' or for inspiration if you're writing, though it's highly addictive once you start!

I've made a book trailer using the templates on Animoto - there always seems to be one which just fits the theme of my book, and as there is a beautiful magical snow globe in my book, I thought this was very appropriate. You can see it here - I hope you enjoy it!

Finally, I had great fun creating a chocolate Advent Calendar on Snapajack  - the picture shows the design for front and back - you can use your own pictures to create an individual, personalised calendar - I've made a couple for prizes to be given away on release day - November 4th, on Austen Variations. I hope you'll join me!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Christmas Recycling!

Cover it has now on Amazon. Christmas at Hartford Hall ( First published by DC Thomson in 2009) A sweet Cinderella story – perfect for Christmas reading. When Elizabeth's grandfather died, there was no sign of a will; and, devastatingly, she discovered she was now dependent on his heir. When the new Lord and Lady Hartford and their twin daughters arrived, they reduced her status to that of a servant. Elizabeth is determined to leave Hartford Hall in the New Year and find work as a governess. But the arrival of Sir James Worthington to make an offer for Lady Eleanor Hartford only leads to her difficulties....
This is the cover for Linford Romance -large print.
This is the cover it had for Musa.
This is the cover it had from MWPN way back in 2009. Astonishing that this little book is now in it's fourth incarnation - just love the cover design by Jane Dixon-Smith Which cover do you like best? Fenella J Miller

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Ghosts at Pemberley

I am delighted to tell you all that the first of a four books series of Jane Austen variations – The Pemberley Series – The Ghosts at Pemberley is now available as a pre-order on Amazon Kindle. I know that traditional publishers stopped taking Jane Austen related books some years ago but there are still a large number of readers, especially in America, who still love to read anything Jane Austen linked.
As my first Jane Austen variations, Miss Bennet and Mr Bingley, was a Pride & Prejudice book I decided to continue the same vein. The main difference between my new book, The Ghosts at Pemberley, and my first is that this one is set after the weddings and introduces new characters. I have already started writing the second in this series in which Georgiana Darcy is the heroine and a handsome major the hero.
This is the blurb: The Ghosts at Pemberley - a Jane Austen Variation. Miss Kitty Bennet is travelling to Pemberley in order to become a companion and friend to Miss Georgiana Darcy when disaster strikes. Adam Denney, the Rector of Bakewell comes to her aid and is much taken with her. Bingley is hurt in the accident and he and Jane are obliged to remain at The Rectory, whilst Kitty continues her journey. The coach accident is just the first of many terrifying incidents that occur once Kitty is established at Pemberley. Somehow her arrival has woken the spirits that occupy the East wing and these ghosts are determined to get their revenge on those who trapped them in the spirit world. Elizabeth is in danger and Darcy is determined to keep her safe. Can the power of God defeat the evil or will Pemberley and its occupants be destroyed? The Ghosts at Pemberley will be released on 30th October and as the book is set in the two weeks before Christmas it is suitably topical. Fenella J Miller

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination

I can feel diffident posting about exhibitions that some of you might not be able to visit like Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, which has just opened at the British Library. Fortunately, the British Library, in partnership with BBC 2 and BBC 4, will be celebrating all things Gothic this autumn with a series of exciting programmes exploring the literature, art, architecture and music – not to mention the famous people associated with the Gothic over the last 250 years. So, dear reader, you won’t be losing out.

At the preview, the curator Tim Pye defined the essentials for a Gothic novel: a dark medieval castle, terrifying spectres, mistaken identities, battling knights and a general air of doom. One could also add moonlight seen through clouds, bats, ivy and owls.

  1. Tintern Abbey
The above picture of Tintern Abbey from 1812, shows a gentleman and a lady visiting the ruined abbey at night. Naturally, there is ivy, a full moon (and clouds) to add to the frisson of terror. Note the servants holding up flares to cast shadows and enhance the Gothic experience.

The exhibition opens with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first Gothic novel. I enjoyed the lively Czech cartoon film of the novel, done as a magic lantern show – very atmospheric, and full of what Walpole called ‘gloomth’. And there are a couple of painted prints of ruined abbeys, designed to be back lit by candles flickering behind the Gothic windows.

 2.  Castle of Otranto

A spate of Gothic novels followed in the 1780-90s, the most famous of which was Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. Mrs Radcliffe was a skilled writer and the book gave the genre literary respectability. The exhibition also has a case containing all seven of the ‘Northanger Horrids’ which Isabella Thorpe recommended to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, published by the Minerva Press with creepy titles like The Castle of Wolfenbach (1794) by Eliza Parsons, and The Necromancer (1794) by Carl Friedrich  Kahlert.  

3. Nathaniel Grogan The Mysteries of Udolpho

Interestingly, perhaps as a result of the French Revolution, the genre began to change, the first of many transformations in its 250 year history. Tim Pye suggested that the French Revolution was so frightening in its own right that the Gothic novel had to up its game: you can’t have reality being more blood-curdling than the Gothic novels specifically written to terrify.

The genre moved from spectres in ruined castles to monsters in human form; for example, Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and later, Dr Polidori’s The Vampyre, inspired by Lord Byron’s fragment written whilst they were all staying at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Leman in the Alps. Now the monstrous came in human form and, worse, the vampire could be someone one knew – in disguise.

4. Frankenstein

There is also a terrific clip from the 1935 film The Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lanchester. Her screams (at about three minute intervals) pierce the air as you go round the exhibition.

The exhibit which probably attracted the most press attention was the mid-Victorian Vampire Hunting Kit borrowed from the Royal Armouries. One can only speculate as to why they own such a thing – unholy disturbances in the Bloody Tower, perhaps?

The handsome box contains everything a respectable vampire-hunter could possibly want: wooden mallet and stakes, crucifix, rosary, Book of Common Prayer, bottles of Holy Water, crushed garlic, a pistol, an iron mould for making bullets, and some bullets.

5: Vampire Hunting Kit. 

I cannot resist ending with a splendid poster from 1890 of the decidedly Gothic melodrama Manhood. It has all the elements of a Gothic play: noble hero with clinging heroine, Gothic ruins, moonlight, ivy, bats, an owl, a graveyard, and a man with a gun, loaded one presumes with a silver bullet, who has just shot another man – probably a vampire in disguise.

6: Manhood poster.

I’m looking forward to the BBC programmes.

Elizabeth Hawksley

The British Library exhibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination runs from 3 October, 2014 to 20 January, 2015.

1.  Tintern Abbey, 1812, courtesy of the British Library Board
2.  Watercolour of The Castle of Otranto from Walpole’s personal copy of the book, courtesy of the British Library
3.  'Lady Blanche crosses the ravine’ from The Mysteries of Udolpho by Nathaniel Grogan, late 1790s, courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland
4.  Frankenstein’s monster from the first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, courtesy of the British Library
5.  Vampire Hunting Kit, courtesy of the Royal Armouries
6.  1890 theatre poster for Manhood, performed at the Elephant and Castle Theatre, courtesy of the British Library Board

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