Monday, March 30, 2009

Alleyways, Sally Lunn's and Public Breakfasts in Bath

One of the things I love about Bath is the way you can imagine yourself transported back in time very easily. There are lots of narrow alleyways, some with shops, and others without, where you can almost see a tailcoat disappear round a corner or hear the rustle of silk gowns sweeping over the cobbles. I love to explore the alleyways off Abbey Green - this one (right) leads to Sally Lunn's!

Sally Lunn's is the oldest house in Bath. Sally Lunn, a young French refugee, arrived in England over 300 years ago. She found work at what is now known as Sally Lunn's House and began to bake a rich round and generous bread now known as the Sally Lunn Bun. This bun became a very popular delicacy in Georgian England as its special taste and lightness allowed it to be enjoyed with either sweet or savoury accompaniments.

Bathing and a visit to the Pump Rooms to take the prescribed number of glasses of water was often followed by the first meal of the day. The buns were sometimes eaten at public breakfasts taken in the Assembly Rooms or by crossing the river by ferry, in a pavilion in Spring Gardens where music might also be performed in this romantic outdoor setting. At midday it was the custom to go to church and many went to the Abbey for convenience. Dinner was taken sometime in the afternoon, by three or four o'clock, and then everyone set about getting ready to go out in the evening.

I love this verse which conjures up images of the rich dress which might have been worn for evening dress by people in Bath in Jane Austen's parent's day.

Painted Lawns, and chequer'd Shades,
Crape, that's worn by love-lorn maids;
Water'd Tabbies, flow'r'd Brocades;
Vi'lets, Pinks, Italian Posies,
Myrtles, Jessamin, and Roses,
Aprons, Caps, and Kerchiefs clean,
Straw-built Hats and Bonnets green,
Catgut, Gauzes, Tippets, Ruffs,
Fans and Hoods, and feathered Muffs,
Stomachers, and Parisnets,
Ear-rings, Necklaces, Aigrets,
Fringes, Blonds, and Mignionets;
Fine Vermilion for the Cheek,
Velvet Patches a la Grecque.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Competition Winner, a Mood Board, and an Extract from Lydia Bennet's Story

The winner of the competition is Milka from Finland! Congratulations! I have e-mailed you, so if you can send me details of where to send your books they will be posted soon.
I thought you might like to see one of the mood boards I created when I was writing Lydia Bennet's Story. I always start with a map, in this case, one of Hertfordshire where Pride and Prejudice is set. We don't know exactly where Meryton and Longbourn were but I based my research around Hertford. I like to find contemporary paintings for inspiration and look for portraits which might suit the characters I am writing about. As time goes on the maps get scribbled on with information about travel times, notes about towns and villages and plot directions. In this instance I added images which helped me to picture my heroine, so a girl in flimsy muslim, a pink bonnet, and bathing huts in Brighton all aided and inspired.
I do a lot of research, but I probably don't use half of it. I find it very useful if you are trying to convey the mood of a scene. If you have read up on the subject you are writing about, it is easier to imagine transporting yourself back in time. Well, that's the theory!

The following extract from Lydia Bennet's Story was inspired by a true account, that of a mock battle that got out of hand which took place on Church Hill in Brighton, September 1803 between the militia of the South Gloucesters, The Sussex Volunteers, The South Hampshires and regular troops from the Flying Artillery.

With a mind excited by the promise of an entertaining afternoon, Lydia set forth with her friends on the following Wednesday to attend a review given by the Prince to celebrate the magnificence of the encampment. Barouches, landaus and gigs paraded into the grounds with military precision, each one filled with laughing girls in sheer muslin, decorously draped to best advantage, displaying new bonnets with fluttering ribbons, all determined to catch the eye of a handsome soldier. Every regiment was involved and participated in some way, every soldier out swaggered the last and it was impossible to know where to look; Lydia’s eye wished to be in every direction at once so as not to miss a single treat. They witnessed the Prince’s inspection of the parade ground and there were several mock fights and displays of sword fighting. Lydia watched in awe as Mr Wickham, whose execution in wielding a sabre was as superior as any of the royal dragoons, showed them all how it should be done with dash and flair.

“Mr Wickham is in such good looks today, is he not?” Harriet said, as she stood up out of the Colonel’s landau to make a closer study. “Where is Miss Westlake? I daresay she is enjoying his performance.”

“I have not seen her, indeed I do not think she is here,” said Lydia, well aware that she had not been seen at any function since the day of the pic-nic, and that she was not in attendance here either. Lydia had her own idea that Miss Westlake was out of humour with Mr Wickham and that she was keeping her distance. There had obviously been some falling out between them on that last occasion and though she had no idea what it had all been about, she felt certain that neither of them were in a hurry to make up.

The man in question chose to ride past their carriage at that moment, doffed his hat and blew a kiss in her direction.
Lydia glowed as she looked out at the scene, and though her bonnet afforded some protection, she shaded her eyes with both hands, thus obscuring her reddened face. She watched him gallop away on his horse, resolute in her desire not to completely forgive him. She had not forgotten how badly behaved he had been and she kept these thoughts uppermost in her mind.

“Would you like a drink, Harriet? I’ve a terrible thirst, it’s so very hot.”

“Yes please,” answered Harriet turning to face her. “Are you quite sure you wish to go? You look awfully pink you know.”

Lydia nodded furiously, opening the carriage door and skipping off to find the refreshment tent, before her friend could witness her agitation.

In the sweltering heat, a mock battle of epic proportions was taking place next, with the Prince leading his dragoons against the other regiments. Lydia kept one eye on the proceedings as the two opposing armies lined up, facing one another. All was quiet but for the clink of swords and stirrups, the creak of leather, the flap of flags snapping in the breeze. Horses stamped, twitching with impatience to be on the move. George Wickham, groomed to perfection, looked steadily ahead, waiting for the signal.

It was so hot Lydia felt she might faint as she hurried along under the blistering sun, and she wondered how it was that the soldiers did not collapse in the heat. She appeared to be the only person moving amongst the quiet crowds, who watched intently in expectation. Then the silent, tranquility of the day was broken. A flag waved, a pistol fired, the Prince’s troops advanced with lightning speed. The battle began with such bloodthirsty vigour that, within minutes it got completely out of hand, and it soon became impossible to separate the spectators from the combatants. The defending army was forced back into the crowd. Soldiers on horseback became entangled with carriages and laundelettes, phaetons and tilburies. Horses reared and bolted, ladies screamed and fainted, blood was spilled by over zealous swordsmen, and the air was thick from pistol fire, sending all into confusion.

Lydia found herself in the middle of the battle scene through no fault of her own. Officers on horseback charged toward her, shouting to get out of their way, as they let pistol shots fire into the air to warn others of their proximity. She ran as hard as she could, but there was nowhere to go but further into the ensuing battlefield, and she missed being trampled underfoot by seconds. A young officer of the Prince’s regiment grabbed Lydia’s arm as she stood looking about her helplessly. “Come along my pretty girl, I will look after you,” he said, taking her hand and leading her away at a trot.

She snatched her hand from his firm grasp and ran toward the place she thought she had left Harriet, but she could not find nor see the Colonel’s carriage. Everyone was running in every direction, horses panicked and brayed, and gunpowder smoke from the cannons filled the air, making it impossible to see or decide on the best course. As she started to feel more than a little hysterical at the worsening scene and had become like a young rabbit rooted to the spot, too frightened to move, a horse galloped alongside her and a hand was thrust and proffered in her direction. She looked up but hesitated as she identified her rescuer. She was overcome to see him but wanted him to know that she had not fully forgiven him.

“Do you want to stay here and be killed? Give me your hand for God’s sake!” shouted George Wickham. He leapt down from the horse to help her mount before she could utter another word, and as he settled into the saddle behind her she felt his arm snake around her waist, his fingers pressing through the fabric of her gown as he held her close. She was enjoying the sensation so much she quite forgot to be vexed. All she could do was smile.

“I have you safe, Miss Bennet,” he whispered into her hair. “Hold tight, lean into me, I will not let you fall.”

Mr Wickham is rescuing me, she thought as they left the horrific scene, galloping away at speed, weaving their way through the mayhem. It was all quite delightful.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lydia meets the Colonel's true love!

Lydia Bennet's Online Diary.
At this time of the year I always read Pride and Prejudice and I thought it would be fun to see what Lydia is thinking about all the goings on at Longbourn. Lydia's online diary starts just before Mr Bingley arrives and finishes where my novel, Lydia Bennet's Story, begins.

Saturday, March 13th, 1802

To my surprise as I entered Emma's sweet parlour, there sat the very Miss Harringtons that Mr Wickham had made reference to in our recent discourse. They are Harriet’s distant cousins on her mother’s side of the family and I am pleased to report that they seem jolly girls, if a little plain and dowdy. After the formality of the initial introductions, our subject for conversation turned naturally towards those with whom we have most in common.

“It has been so dull since your sister left, Miss Fitzalan,” I remarked, “Kitty and I have not bothered to venture out so much. Everything is so tedious at this time of year, the cold, the wind, the dirty walks, even the officers have failed to inspire our notice, despite all the efforts of your very own sweet Colonel. Mr Wickham who is a great favourite has lately been completely taken over by Mary King, so we have not even been able to enjoy his society. We enjoyed such a round of parties and balls in December and, I daresay, the seasonal celebrations have taken their toll. But now you are come and we have been so starved of like minds with which to have a lark, that you are a sight to behold!”

“Miss Bennet, I am heartily glad to have made your acquaintance at last. I have heard of nothing else from Isabella but of you and your sisters for the past two months, and you are truly a dear friend, I hope to us both,” Harriet replied. “I am sorry that your sisters are otherwise engaged, I long to meet them all. I cannot tell you how fortunate I am to be here at last. I could not let Isabella forgo invitations to Meryton and Bath and, as it has worked out, I could not have wished for a better outcome. I am thrilled that Isabella has found herself a husband.”

“If only we could go to Bath, Penelope,” sighed the elder Miss Harrington, “I’m sure we would have a better chance at getting ourselves wed. I think husbands grow on trees in that place. Last winter my cousin Sophia caught herself a fine one after just one week’s visit and he was by no means the first who applied for her hand!”

“I think we can safely conjecture that anyone of us here might have caught the notice of an impoverished handsome Lord, for that was what he was,” laughed Penelope, “if we had Sophia’s fortune. She had the money and he had the title, so it suited them both. I am not convinced that any trips to Bath, Brighton or Cheltenham would have any benefits for our health, our wealth or our chances of matrimony, I daresay we would come back poorer than we went. Unless a young man is going to be smitten by my looks and charm, I would say that my chances of embracing the married state are nought. What say you, Miss Bennet?”

“I have always supposed that my face would be my fortune, I have nothing else to offer in the way of riches except my natural allurements and, I own that life as a spinster without the prospect of marriage has never been a consideration. I have read of many cases where love is the motive and even Kings have been smitten with ordinary girls, quite out of their sphere.” I said. “Besides, we have an example of true love right under our very noses,” I persisted, “Miss Fitzalan and Colonel Forster, a love match made in heaven.”

Harriet blushed. “Well, I hope whilst I am here that I may find husbands for you all,” she said. “And I do hope that you are going to help and advise me on the best places to go for wedding clothes, as Henry and I will be married here by special license in April. There is not much time and I do not know where to start, although Isabella has made a suggestion that a trip to St Albans may be the very thing to put me out of my misery.”

“I have been there occasionally with mama and papa,” I said, "and the shops are magnificent. There are mantua makers and warehouses full of imported cloths, fine India muslins, local silk and all manner of straw bonnets and headpieces. It is but twelve miles away from here along good roads. There are forty coaches a day and it would make a lovely day trip. 'tis a pity you could not have come sooner, I have been to the fair at Michaelmas and witnessed all the gaiety of the country for many miles around, exhibitions and shows of the wonderful and marvellous, including Mr Richardson’s travelling theatre and performers.”

“How delightful!” Harriet exclaimed. “A trip to St Alban’s will exceed my expectations I am sure and you must all accompany me. Henry can come too, lest we be attacked by robbers and we will take the coach. Emma, you will of course be our chaperone, won’t you? What do you say to our little adventure? What a handsome scheme!”

The Misses Harrington clapped in their excitement. There were nods and exclamations of approval all round.
Harriet has suggested a date of the 22nd March, se’ennight following the Assembly Ball. I must speak to mama about some allowance for my pocket. I knew life would be more fun with Harriet in town!

Lydia Bennet

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sense and Sensibility in Chapter One at Norland Park

Jane Austen does not give us physical descriptions of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood at the beginning of Sense and Sensibility. We get a picture of the sisters by the descriptions of their behaviour and the way in which they deal with their father's death cleverly showing the 'sense' of Elinor and the 'sensibility' of Marianne in chapter one. It seems Elinor is the only female in the household who can find the strength to carry on with her normal duties putting aside her feelings and emotions in order to get on with greeting her brother and sister-in-law who arrive to take over Norland Park. Marianne and Mrs Dashwood give in freely to their feelings while poor Elinor has to get on with the business of the day.

Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; but by Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged each other now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of grief which overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was sought for, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly to their sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflection that could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolation in future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she could struggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother, could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her with proper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similar exertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

My painting shows Marianne and Mrs Dashwood encouraging one another in their grief whilst Elinor can be seen in the background having to receive her guests.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mother's Day

It's Mothering Sunday here in the UK tomorrow. I've been thinking not only about my mother, and both my lovely step-mother and mother-in-law, but also of the children who will not have their mother with them tomorrow. My heart goes out to Natasha Richardson's boys who must be devastated by the loss of their mother. My brother was about the same age when our mother died; my sister and I were 17 and 21 respectively. The trauma of such a loss and its effects on a family cannot be described. Prince William said in an interview the other day how much he dreads Mother's Day, and I know just what he means - I still miss my mother terribly, and not a day goes by when I don't think about her. She was such an inspiration, and a wonderful mum who could turn her hand to anything. I have treasured memories of us painting together - she encouraged me with my drawing and story telling. She was a wonder with a needle - I remember describing a dress I liked once, and she made it in an afternoon from remnants of material that she kept for just such a purpose. My mum was always making or drawing and painting; I have many paintings that she did. We studied A level Art together and were in the same class at college which was fun. Whenever I think of my mother, it is in a sunny garden. She loved being outside and pottering in the garden with the flowers. Roses were her favourite, but everything she grew blossomed under her care, a skill she did not hand down to me, unfortunately. Whenever I sit in my garden with a cup of tea I can see her in my mind's eye, her best china laid out on a snowy cloth on the garden table, slicing a fruit cake or victoria sponge and handing round cups of tea with conversation and laughter.
Of course now I am a mother myself, the day has its joys - I have a wonderful collection of home-made cards and to spend time with my children is very special. I will miss my eldest son tomorrow. For the first time he is away on Mother's Day because he is on tour and will be on his way to Glasgow. But I am very lucky, I know I shall see him soon.

To everyone who cannot have their mother with them tomorrow I'm sure we'd all like to say, we are thinking of you and sending thoughts of love.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Austen Effusions gets a new look and a Competition!

I'm very excited to tell you that I have a new web site, same address and name, Austen Effusions, but with a totally new look. The site has updates about my books, Effusions of Fancy, Lydia Bennet's Story and Willoughby's Return, including extracts, and a page about my interest in Jane Austen's world, which shows a slideshow of my paintings.
Aimee Fry, the talented website designer, has done a beautiful job, I think. She was a pleasure to work with and she was so fast I found it hard to keep up - a lovely, pain-free experience! You can find her at Site Amigo and she also has a website selling some vintage-inspired gifts Brown Paper Package. I am absolutely thrilled with the website - thank you so much, Aimee!
To celebrate the launch I have a copy of Lydia Bennet's Story and Effusions of Fancy to give away. All you have to do is go to the Austen Effusions website, and drop me an e-mail through the contact page. I shall put the names in a hat to select the winner - the competition is open to all wherever you are! Please put Competition in the subject line. The winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Harriet arrives and Mr Wickham promises Lydia a Dance!

Lydia Bennet's Online Diary.
At this time of the year I always read Pride and Prejudice and I thought it would be fun to see what Lydia is thinking about all the goings on at Longbourn. Lydia's online diary starts just before Mr Bingley arrives and finishes where my novel, Lydia Bennet's Story, begins.

I set off for Meryton shortly after breakfast and met Mr Wickham in the High Street, intent on a few calls.

“Miss Bennet, I declare I have not seen you or any of your family for a month at least. Have you all been in hiding?” he asked with a mischievous grin, as he stepped in alongside me with a bow and a flourish.

“No,” I retorted. “Any reasons I might have had for hiding have long since disappeared and are enjoying themselves at Bath, as well you know. My sister Jane is still in London, Catherine has gone to stay with her friend in Hatfield and I believe you did see my sister Elizabeth before she went to Hunsford, not more than five days ago.”

I paused outside the milliner’s and made a study of the bonnets in the window and my reflection in the glass. I glanced sideways at Mr Wickham and twirled a curl that was intent on escaping from my bonnet around my finger.

“Ah yes I did, you are quite correct,” he answered. “Forgive me, it had quite escaped my mind. How is Miss Elizabeth? Have you had any news? Has Lady Catherine condescended to entertain your sister and the Collinses?”

“Elizabeth is quite well, thank you, but suffering greatly as far as any of us can tell from the tone of her letters which are very few. She has dined once at Rosings Park, I believe, but we have yet to hear the particulars. I daresay she will survive, but it must be a dull month she will have to endure, without the promise of any stimulating company or dancing. I envied her the trip at first, but I am so glad to be here now that Colonel Forster’s Harriet is come.”

“And so am I, glad that you are not gone with your sisters. Who would make me laugh, Miss Bennet? What should I do for amusement? And if you went away, I should have no-one to dance with-now what should I do then?”

“You are cruel to tease me so, Mr Wickham, and I think you had best not let Mary King hear you say that you would have no partner with which to dance. How is she? I have not seen her lately. We have been much at home with the weather as it is and, I have had much to do,” I added quickly, lest he should think I am a hopeless creature with no interests, pursuits or society.

“Miss King is well enough, I daresay, but you are probably as well qualified to comment on her welfare, as I have not seen her for a fortnight and then t’was only to tip her the nod as she was calling on her friend, Miss Harrington. Are you acquainted with the Miss Harrington's?”

“I know them slightly, not as well as I would wish,” I stated before enquiring if Mr Wickham had seen anything of Colonel Forster’s fiancee.

“Tell me Mr Wickham, have you seen Miss Harriet Fitzalan yet? What is she like?”

“She is a very handsome young girl, a little older than you, I would guess. Indeed, I would say the Colonel is a very fortunate fellow.”

“What, have you already been introduced? Pray, is she fair like her sister? Has she Isabella’s blue eyes? Do not delay, Mr Wickham. Do tell all!”

“No Miss Bennet, I have not yet had the pleasure of introduction, but I certainly had a capital view of her stepping out of the carriage when she arrived early this morning and, I think I can safely describe her appearance as most attractive. Whether she is dark or fair, however, I cannot say, owing to the large bonnet and bunches of ribbons that were obscuring her hair and most of her features. I will never understand why young ladies enjoy wearing such contraptions on their heads and the practice certainly impedes any chap’s close scrutiny, which has to be a disadvantage to my way of thinking.”

“What do you mean by this, you impossible tease, I do not believe you have noticed anything about Harriet apart from the turn of her pretty ankle, which is just the sort of feature that arrests the attentions of certain gentlemen who strut about Meryton in scarlet coats, giving their pronounced opinions on any poor creature who happens to cross their path. Deny that you are one of them!”

“Miss Bennet, you treat me too harshly, but then, what can I expect from a girl whose heart is still tender from a bruising?”

“Mr Wickham, you vex me exceedingly. Indeed, my heart is not bruised or even grazed and, if you make one more reference to that gentleman, I declare I shall never stand up with you again. I am not in love with him, I never was and, you quite mistake the matter!”

“Consider it settled, Miss Lydia Bennet, I shall never mention a certain person within your hearing ever again as long as I have the breath in my body to cut a quadrille, for henceforth I will live in fear of being shunned and spurned by your good self on the dance floor. Speaking of the latter, when may I expect to have the pleasure of dancing with you again, do you think?”

“If you ask me very nicely as a gentleman ought, I may consider taking a turn with you at the next Assembly Ball, which I believe is to be held on Monday. That is, if you are not already engaged to dance every one with a certain young lady whose talents far exceed my own,” I added, with a playful reference to Mary King’s legacy.

George Wickham’s eyes narrowed as they penetrated mine, yet he laughed as he took his leave and graciously requested to be given the honour of leading me in the dances. “I will teach you a new Valse, my dear, Miss Bennet, in which I am sure you will excel. And despite what you have to say about Mary King’s accomplishments, whatever they may be, I think you know there are none who dance as beautifully as you. It will be my pleasure to be your instructor and I look forward to the Ball!”

A brand new Valse! How I long to see such a dance and to have the joy of partnering Mr Wickham again, I daresay I shall be the envy of all!
After this encounter, I called briefly on my aunt to tell her about Harriet’s arrival. She was very pleased to see me but I could not stay long as it was time to keep my engagement at Emma’s and finally meet Harriet. As Emma opened the door, I could hear high spirited conversation and laughter and knew before I set eyes on her, that Miss Harriet Fitzalan would be the epitome of good nature and playfulness.

She is everything that I admire in a fellow creature. Harriet is tall and slender with dark eyes and brown curly hair which falls in natural ringlets about her face. She is very pretty and is possessed of a sunny disposition. Indeed, it is when she laughs that she reminds me most of her sister. In physical appearance, she is as different as any sibling can be from another, but there is something in her manner and personality which is so similar to Isabella that we are on easy terms already. I just know we shall be great friends!

Lydia Bennet

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sense and Sensibility, 2008

I watched the lovely BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility yesterday for the umpteenth time. I really love this version quite as much as the Emma Thompson/Ang Lee version. Colonel Brandon played by David Morrissey, gets it just right, I think, and I like the way that Andrew Davies, the writer of the screenplay, shows us little windows into his character, showing him as a suitor prepared to wait for Marianne's affection, hinting at their shared interests, and giving Marianne some very good reasons to fall in love with him.
Jane Austen really glosses over the last stage of their courtship, which has left some of us wondering how on earth she managed to end up with him. There is something a little unsatisfactory, for me, in the way this is wrapped up.

Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship, voluntarily to give her hand to another! - and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, - whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married, - and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!

But so it was. Instead of falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly flattered herself with expecting, - instead of remaining even for ever with her mother, and finding her only pleasures in retirement and study, as afterwards in her more calm and sober judgment she had determined on, - she found herself, at nineteen, submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, placed in a new home, a wife, the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village.

Colonel Brandon was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be; - in Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction; - her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfulness; and that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his, was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend. Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.

Charity Wakefield was a super Marianne - I have to confess to crying when she receives the letters back from Willoughby. I do wonder why Marianne is always depicted with blonde hair. Charity Wakefield is a brunette and would have been far more in keeping with Austen's idea of Marianne had she been allowed to be herself, in my opinion. I know she doesn't specifically say dark hair, but with dark eyes and very brown skin, surely her hair was dark too! Anyway, I thought she gave a terrific performance, as did Hattie Morahan who was perfectly cast as Elinor.

This is what Austen says about Marianne's description.
Her form, though not so correct as her sister's, in having the advantage of height, was more striking; and her face was so lovely, that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her skin was very brown, but from its transparency, her complexion was uncommonly brilliant; her features were all good; her smile was sweet and attractive; and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight.

Finally, Dominic Cooper was the epitome of bad boy Willoughby, and in this production I liked the way you could see how Marianne was going to be attracted to him, whilst also knowing right from the start that he is not to be trusted. Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars was a little too good looking, but hey, who's complaining? I think the inclusion of scenes that Austen did not expand on was inspired - I particularly liked the scene where Willoughby takes Marianne around Allenham. I'd already written this scene as a flashback in my new book, Willoughby's Return, and though not quite exactly the same, it's very similar - a scene which shows us Marianne's vulnerability and naivity. It was a joy to write.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable production and DVD, which I know I shall wear out before too long!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lacock Abbey, Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter!

On my visit to Lacock I visited the Abbey grounds - unfortunately the house was still closed, but the gardens were very beautiful - drifts of crocus and snowdrops carpeting the grass. It was fun spotting all the places I'd seen in the cloisters in Pride and Prejudice (Wickham behaving disreputably at University) and in the Harry Potter films. The exhibition on early photography was fascinating and there is a good selection of books in the bookshop to tempt!

From the National Trust: The Abbey sits at the heart of Lacock village. It was founded in 1232 and converted into a country house c.1540. The atmospheric monastic rooms include medieval cloisters, a sacristy and chapter house and have survived largely intact. They have featured in two Harry Potter films, plus the recent The Other Boleyn Girl. The handsome 16th-century stable courtyard houses a clockhouse, brewery and bakehouse.

The pioneering photographic achievements of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-77), who invented the negative/positive process, can be experienced in the Fox Talbot Museum. His descendants gave the Abbey and village to the Trust in 1944. A stroll through the Abbey's Victorian woodland grounds reveals a stunning display of flowers in spring and magnificent trees, while the Botanic Garden reflects the plant collections of Fox Talbot – for whom botany was a lifelong scientific interest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another letter from Hunsford!

Lydia Bennet's Online Diary.
At this time of the year I always read Pride and Prejudice and I thought it would be fun to see what Lydia is thinking about all the goings on at Longbourn. Lydia's online diary starts just before Mr Bingley arrives and finishes where my novel, Lydia Bennet's Story, begins.

Friday, March 12th, 1802
Another letter from Lizzy arrived this morning, which mama read at the breakfast table. Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne called at the vicarage in her phaeton on Wednesday. Lizzy is pleased to report that she is very thin, cross and sickly, an entirely suitable candidate as a spouse for Mr Darcy. Lady C. has high hopes for a match and this idea has amused my sister greatly. Her description of Charlotte and Mr Collins standing at the gate in the wind, hanging on to Miss de Bourgh’s every word, whilst Sir William waited at the door, smiling and bowing alternately before them brought much hilarity to our table. Papa who normally has his head buried in a newspaper was actually very animated on the subject, although it prompted him to say how much he was missing his eldest daughters, particularly Lizzy.
They have all dined at Rosings Park and Lizzy has met the great Lady Catherine herself. We could imagine the exultation with which Mr Collins received this invitation, proving his intimacy with his neighbour and suffering poor Lizzy to listen to yet more conceit. Thank the Lord I am in Meryton with all the officers! I would not swap her situation for all the tea in China!

Lydia Bennet

Charles Brock illustration from Pemberley

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Pump Rooms, Bath, and Northanger Abbey

If you carry on down Milsom Street, Old Bond Street and Union Street you will eventually come to Stall Street and the King's and Queen's Baths. If you pass under the colonnade you come to the entrance to the Pump Rooms. Inside you can see the Rooms much as they were when first built in 1795. Water is pumped up to a fountain where the pumper serves glasses for its health giving properties! I have sampled the waters - I don't want to put anyone off - if you like drinking slightly warm, sulphurous smelling water you'll enjoy them very them. Musicians play as you take the waters or have a more substantial cup of tea or lunch as they did in Jane Austen's day. Several glasses of water were taken in those days and it was customary to drink them before breakfast. The doors opened at 6 am in summer and by 8 am the room was full.
Here is an extract from Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey.

With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the pump–room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr. Tilney there before the morning were over, and ready to meet him with a smile; but no smile was demanded — Mr. Tilney did not appear. Every creature in Bath, except himself, was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours; crowds of people were every moment passing in and out, up the steps and down; people whom nobody cared about, and nobody wanted to see; and he only was absent. “What a delightful place Bath is,” said Mrs. Allen as they sat down near the great clock, after parading the room till they were tired; “and how pleasant it would be if we had any acquaintance here.”

This sentiment had been uttered so often in vain that Mrs. Allen had no particular reason to hope it would be followed with more advantage now; but we are told to “despair of nothing we would attain,” as “unwearied diligence our point would gain”; and the unwearied diligence with which she had every day wished for the same thing was at length to have its just reward, for hardly had she been seated ten minutes before a lady of about her own age, who was sitting by her, and had been looking at her attentively for several minutes, addressed her with great complaisance in these words: “I think, madam, I cannot be mistaken; it is a long time since I had the pleasure of seeing you, but is not your name Allen?”
This question answered, as it readily was, the stranger pronounced hers to be Thorpe; and Mrs. Allen immediately recognized the features of a former schoolfellow and intimate, whom she had seen only once since their respective marriages, and that many years ago.
Their joy on this meeting was very great, as well it might, since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years. Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make inquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said.

Mrs. Thorpe, however, had one great advantage as a talker, over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children; and when she expatiated on the talents of her sons, and the beauty of her daughters, when she related their different situations and views — that John was at Oxford, Edward at Merchant Taylors’, and William at sea — and all of them more beloved and respected in their different station than any other three beings ever were, Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with the discovery, which her keen eye soon made, that the lace on Mrs. Thorpe’s pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own.

Friday, March 6, 2009

News from Elizabeth and the pleasures of Meryton with all its diversions!

Lydia Bennet's Online Diary.
At this time of the year I always read Pride and Prejudice and I thought it would be fun to see what Lydia is thinking about all the goings on at Longbourn. Lydia's online diary starts just before Mr Bingley arrives and finishes where my novel, Lydia Bennet's Story, begins.

Thursday, 11th March, 1802

Mama received news from Lizzy this morning - despite the fact that she writes with compassion for Charlotte and with derision of our cousin, it has nevertheless set mama off again into a diatribe of what might have been. Lizzy’s account of their comfortable surroundings and description of a tour of the house and garden had mama exclaiming how some people who ought to be satisfied with one house agreeably fitted up, should not be so anxious to snatch another from under the very noses of its rightful owners. However, she took some comfort from the fact that the house is small, and was forced to laugh out loud at Lizzy’s revelation that Mr Collins is a great gardner and is encouraged by his new wife to be in his garden at every opportunity - thus reaping the benefits of exercise for good health - and as I see it, keeping out of her way.

Cousin Collins is very pleased with his patroness, he and Charlotte dine at Rosings twice a week and are never allowed to walk home.
Kitty has gone to stay with a friend in Hatfield for a fortnight. Selina Deane is one of the dullest girls I know. I cannot think how Kitty will stomach her company for all that time - she will miss the party on Saturday and will not have the pleasure of meeting Harriet. I am sure if I were her, I would have declined Selina’s invite in favour of accompanying my sister who is far more fun!

I persuaded mama that we might go shopping in Meryton this morning as Mrs Brown has just received some new muslins. She bought white muslin for Jane and Lizzy, and I found the prettiest material with pink flowers just perfect for a spring gown. It will do very nicely for Harriet's reception if I can have it made up in time. I hope papa will not notice all my mother's purchases for he is sure to make her send them back. My new bonnet of white persian trimmed with an ostrich feather looked so well on my head in the milliner's that my mother did not have the heart to refuse me - and I insisted that she treat herself to the blue with matching feathers, so we are both well satisfied. I have hidden my hat for the time being because if Kitty gets wind of it I shall be plagued to death with her protestations.
Saw several very handsome officers, who for their cheeky impudence flashed many smiles and winks in my direction. That Mr Wickham is most blatant in his admiration! I cannot blame any of them, if I say so myself, the sunshine and spring air has put quite a bloom in my cheeks!

Lydia Bennet

Engraving of Westerham, Kent. Westerham is near to Jane Austen's Hunsford

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Taking tea in Lacock

I can think of nothing nicer on a cold February day than sitting in a teashop by a log fire and partaking of a cream tea. I visited King John's Hunting Lodge which is the oldest house in Lacock and found perfection. If you have an idea of what you might expect from an English teashop, a visit here will not disappoint. According to their web site, 'the main part of the lodge, dating back to the 13th century, still has much of the original cruck beam structure, whilst the rear of the building was added to in Tudor times. King John (1167 - 1216), Lord of the Manor of Melksham, frequently indulged his passion for hunting in the surrounding forest, and it is likely that he made regular visits to his Hunting Lodge.'

The lovely dresser filled with blue and white china groaned with cakes of all kinds: chocolate confections, plump Victoria sponges, fruit slabs and coffee cake studded with crisp walnuts.
I love old china and there is plenty on display on shelves and behind glass; pretty floral cups and saucers in delicate hues.

Tea, savouries, scones and cake are served in willow pattern blue and white - we quenched our thirst with lashings of ginger beer before fragrant cups of Earl Grey. The savouries were delicious as was the cream tea etc. Apart from the lovely ambience and decorations the staff are so friendly and cheerful - they seemed run off their feet, but went out of their way to make sure everyone was happy.
I didn't set out for this to sound like a review, but it was the highlight of my visit to Lacock!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Pride and Prejudice 1995 - Lacock location

Whilst staying in Bath I took a little trip out to Lacock, the village where so many of our favourite adaptations have been filmed. Most memorable, of course, was the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I've been to Lacock many times, but I thought you might be interested to see a few photos. There I am standing under the sign of the Red Lion which doubled up as the Meryton Assembly Rooms in the miniseries.

Next up is a view down the main street - I do think it is a pity that they allow people to park their cars there - they really do spoil the look of the place - but, this isn't a model town; people live here and in a modern world we drive cars. How much nicer it would look if there were horses and carriages - and officers - and real bonnets in the shops!

The last photo shows a view towards the church. It's down here that I discovered a gorgeous teashop. I'm not ashamed to say I made two visits to this heavenly establishment - and found that the stars of Harry Potter had been there before me. I've got some gorgeous pictures of cakes for tomorow!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

New Sourcebooks edition, Pemberley Manor, Kathryn L Nelson

My friend Kathryn L Nelson is a very special guest on my blog today. Her book, Pemberley Manor, a new Sourcebooks edition, is to be released in April of 2009. Kathy tells us of her inspiration and about how she came to write her lovely book.

Lord, it makes me laugh to think of it…

I continue to require the services of a little pinch now and again to remind me that I’m not dreaming, that I have indeed written a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, that it has been published once, and now will be published again by Sourcebooks, all within my lifetime!

When the BBC and A&E created yet another production of Pride and Prejudice in 1995, it was as if I were seeing it for the first time. I don’t know if it was my age, my condition in life, or solely the excellence of the screenplay, directing, and acting, but I was suddenly caught up in Jane Austen’s world.

When I began to write the rambling story that eventually became Pemberley Manor, I was a partner in our family electrical contracting business, co-chair of the Parent Teacher Organization at my twelve-year-old son’s school, and the floor-covering store my sister and I owned was taking its final, fatal nose-dive. I suppose my adventure in writing could have been nothing more than an attempt to run away to another time and place for a long rest.

There was, of course, the allure of Colin Firth’s wet shirt and Jennifer Ehle’s fine eyes to tempt a middle-aged woman, twenty years married, into thoughts of romance. And there was my friend Jane Anderson who had her own fire burning and purchased first one and then a second set of tapes of the miniseries so we could make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

After several years of late-night writing, I had filled hundreds of pages of paper with words that made me laugh out loud, and I couldn’t shake the vision of the same actors, reassembled somewhere in the English countryside, speaking them before a camera. I wrote to the BBC and also to A&E to suggest it, and although they politely declined, I was encouraged to receive an answer back that included the phrase “an absorbing read from the very first page….” Well!

After a very brief foray into the agent/publisher-hunting business, I boxed up my lovely pages, put them under the bed, and got on with my life. But every once in a while I would pick up one of Jane’s novels or replay the tapes yet again, and a little longing would stir in me. It would not give me rest, and when I stumbled over the names of several other sequels to Austen’s novels, I became a woman obsessed.

In my first halting steps on the web, I managed to find Diana Birchall and her lovely sequel, Mrs Darcy’s Dilemma. She was a gracious mentor, sending me to her publisher, Egerton House, and introducing me to our own Jane Odiwe who was trying to publish a sequel herself, a sweet rendering of Lydia that has since become Lydia Bennet’s Story. The story of their encouragement and support is another tale, but it gave me to understand that the obsession to travel down the road with Jane Austen’s characters after she leaves them is one that is shared by an enormous number of people.

From this realization, it was a short step to the Jane Austen Society of North America. I was, at my first meeting, too nervous to admit that I had written a sequel. I still feel a blush when I mention the word to a devoted Austen fan, and I have to confess that had I not written one myself, I would have been the first to disparage the genre.

But there it is. I’ve done it and I can’t take it back. And I’ve discovered a world of both readers and writers who, in my opinion, flatter Jane Austen both by imitating her style and by treating her characters as if they never stopped living and growing.

And…I got to have both lunch and dinner at Jane Odiwe’s house, meet her amazing family and be treated like royalty. I highly recommend the writing of sequels. It throws one in the path of all the best people.

I just wanted to add that apart from getting to know Kathy and her charming book, Pemberley Manor, I've got to meet her gorgeous son, Nayef, and her friend Marian and husband Brian, who are those sort of lovely people you feel you've known forever.
I am loving that new cover, Kathy!