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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.