The Author

Happy Halloween! As a holiday treat, I thought I would share a spooky short story with you.

I don’t think I’m very good at short stories, but I keep trying! This one, titled The Author, was written in response to The Stylist/Virago’s Daphne Du Maurier short story competition. Du Maurier is one of my all time favourite authors and I thought it would be fun to write something in homage to her.

Accordingly, I’ve tried to imitate her voice and cram in as many Du Maurier references as I can! I also made the subject a female author in tribute. It was great fun to write and I hope you will enjoy it too.

The Author

I read every book except the biography. To open that flashy volume, emblazoned with her name and photograph, felt like prying; curious in a way degrading to both her and me. Besides, I did not need an academic to translate my author – I had her words. The smooth, rocking rhythm of those words, wafting up from the page like incense. Although she died before I was born, I knew her voice, would know it amongst a thousand others; its wit and its fearless, strident tones. The way it revealed her secrets on the page and, somehow, my own with them. As if she had glimpsed me in the womb and known precisely what I would grow to be.

Even as the coach lumbered up the narrow road leading to her house, I recognised the cliff yawning over the sea, and the gulls circling in the spray. I knew there would be purple mounds of thrift growing from the rock, dotted here and there with sea-lavender. Long before it appeared through my window, I pictured a medieval turret engulfed by ivy. And it seemed to me, as we pulled up before Magnus Hall ready for our day-trip, that I had visited this place before. The warm, yellow stone, the lawns, the pink rhododendron – surely I had seen them in a dream? Walking down the steps, past the driver, onto the gravel, felt exactly like coming home.

Outside, all was alive with the force and sound of the sea. A blast of wind tore off my hat and sent it scudding away. I laughed. After a long journey, it was good to feel the salt air strike my face and comb its fingers through my hair.

Half a dozen gulls, large as chickens, stood on the lawn before the house, watching us. One tilted its head to regard me with reptilian eyes. I waved.

‘In a line, please!’ Our tour guide bellowed above the hubbub. His umbrella emerged, a long green finger.

I shuffled into place behind a couple with a screaming child. I wished they had left the little boy behind. His red, scrunched face was spoiling my sense of awe and excitement. The author never put children into her books, never delved into their world. Right now, I could understand why.

We passed through the arched door into a chamber smelling of dust and leather. Sepia light filtered through the windows and splashed on burnished wood. The blustery day passed away. All was quiet and still. No clocks ticked, no footsteps sounded through the carpet. Even the child before me surrendered, all at once, to a deathly hush.

We turned to the right and there she was, hanging above the mantelpiece in oils: my author. Bobbed hair clung to her jaw. She stared direct, unapologetic like the seagull. She looked different in paint, austere. I could not picture those crimson lips forming her words, the words that brought me such joy.

‘This was painted at the height of her power,’ the tour guide droned. ‘She was forty-six’.

Murmurs ran down the queue like shivers along a spine. Cameras flashed, reflecting off the picture frame. Cheapening her.

‘The year after, she won the Ambrose Prize with I Return. If you step through this way, you will see the famous house from that novel. That’s right – this door.’

I pushed forward, excitement brewing. What did he mean by saying we could see Yellan House? Had someone illustrated an edition of the book?

We passed into a vaulted medieval hall. Tasselled curtains covered the windows, blocking all natural light. Only electric lamps shone, sterile, inside glass cabinets. Standing on tip-toe, I strained to see over the shoulder of the woman in front. Glass everywhere; covering each wall, bouncing back our faint, colourless faces. And behind the glass, a doll’s house.

Yellan House – I knew it well – finely wrought in miniature. There was the conservatory, where the marriage proposal took place; here, the parlour where she found the body.

‘She built a house for every novel.’ The tour guide’s voice buzzed inside my ear. ‘And see the characters, inside. Highly detailed, often based on people she knew. This one, famously, Major Armstrong from Laburnum, modelled after the author’s husband.’

As I gazed at the figures occupying Yellan House – their glassy eyes and waxen faces – a strange grief possessed me. I did not want these stiff-jointed dolls. I wanted my characters, the friends in my mind no one else could taint.

The line wiggled and then broke as tourists swarmed around the cabinets. Once more cameras flashed and children laughed. It was shameful, demeaning. Her magical world, invaded.

Pushing past a gaggle of school girls, I went to the back of the hall where there was space to breathe. Here stood a cottage I could not place from her novels. Sand surrounded the base, intimating a sea-side setting. A doll dressed in fishermen’s overalls crouched in the garden, cleaning a tiny net.

‘This one has always been my favourite.’ I jumped to see the tour guide standing beside me. He regarded the cottage fondly. ‘So apt. Her words are like a net, don’t you think? Drawing you in.’

‘But I don’t recognise it,’ I confessed. ‘I don’t know it from the books.’

‘You wouldn’t. This was her last novel, unfinished. No title.’

‘Unfinished!’ I felt breathless. There were more words, words unread. My eyes travelled over the house, garnering the rooms: a cottage kitchen; a scullery; a red flock parlour with a half-made doll. ‘But . . . how far did she get?’

‘A fair way, I think.’

‘But why wasn’t it published?’

‘The wishes of her son forbade publication. He felt so strongly that he even left instructions in his own will.’

I did not know that she had a son. ‘Surely his children – ’

‘He did not live to have children. He died as a young man, lost at sea.’

It served him right. He had taken something from me – something precious.

I turned back to the cottage, my nose pressed against the glass, to study the incomplete doll in the red room. Her face bore no features, yet she wore beige slacks like mine; a white blouse, like mine. A terrible hunger started up inside. This was my character, created for me, waiting by a red velvet sofa for adventures that would never come. The author had written a character for me and this dead man, her interfering son, kept us apart.

‘Is it here?’ My breath misted the glass. I saw the house dimly, through a fog, the doll’s blank face a moon riding clouds. ‘Is the manuscript here?’

But the tour guide just smiled and moved on.

 ***

It was not hard to conceal myself within Magnus Hall. It was not hard to crouch for hours with pins and needles in my legs when I remembered the reward.

My coach departed with the daylight. Staff exchanged farewells. I heard keys clunk in locks and finally, I was alone.

Unoccupied, the house felt larger. Louder too – haunted by the restless sound of the sea. I found a flashlight in the staffroom and walked, as she must have done, through the hall of dolls, past their watchful eyes, into the room with her portrait and round toward the stairs.

In a circle of torchlight I glimpsed mahogany banisters and a chintz carpet snaking up to the second floor. The treads creaked beneath my feet as I climbed, but I was not afraid. This was home – here, with her presence and the waves tossing outside. I was mistress of the house, even as she had been.

Her library was not locked. The door whined on its hinges as I crept in, my torch casting monstrous shadows up the wall. Here, the air was warm with the scent of paper. No curtains blocked the windows; they faced over the cliff-edge, out to sea, where crests of white foam writhed in dark water.

She might have sat there only yesterday. Her green leather chair before the desk; the pens lined up ready for use. And there, in another cabinet, her notebook.

Her last novel.

Trembling, I made my way across the carpet, jammed the torch between my teeth and fumbled with the cabinet door. No alarms sounded, no wires tripped. I lifted the book gently, a sleeping child in my arms. Damn her son. This manuscript, whatever it said, was meant for me.

Dizzy with anticipation, I opened the cover and sniffed the first page, longing to find a trace of her perfume. There was none. No scent at all.

My pulse pounded, drowning out the crash of the sea.

Here was the first sentence, written in her long, sloping hand.

I knew that you would come.

 ***

Gulls awoke me, cackling in the high wind. Slowly, painfully, I opened my eyelids. A room swam into focus. I hadn’t noticed, by torchlight, the lurid red of the library walls. It made my head pound.

My neck ached too.  I tried to stretch. The muscles were stiff as wood – they refused to move.

I could not lift my arm. I could not open my lips.

Panic spiked as I tried to recall the night before. What happened? Why was I frozen like this, cast in stone? Only my eyes moved, frantic, looking for help.

The room was empty. No cabinet, no unfinished book, no desk looking out to sea. Simply the throb of that red flock wallpaper and a sofa by my side.

This wasn’t the library, yet somehow I knew it. Something was familiar . . .

‘I don’t believe it.’ A male voice.

‘What?’

‘Look!’ It sounded like my tour guide. I strained, trying to turn my head.

‘What am I looking at?’

Two enormous faces loomed before me. Their features rippled, obscured by an invisible barrier.

‘The doll,’ my tour guide gasped. ‘Look!’

‘Are you feeling all right, John? You’re very pale.’

One giant eye pressed closer. I saw my terror reflected on a colossal scale. ‘It has a face.’

‘They all have.’

‘No . . .’

I did recognise the room, the red room. I had been right about the doll and the book. They were always meant for me.

Her words are like a net, don’t you think? Drawing you in.

As horror ignited, I met the tour guide’s eye. Saw, in its depths, that he knew.

But he could not help me. No one could.

We were powerless, each of us frozen, as her words lapped against the walls with the endless sigh of the sea.

Copyright Laura Purcell 2016

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Bloomsbury

By Concord - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27472860

By Concord – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

 

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have some very good news to share! After a few months’ hard work with my agent on a new draft of The Silent Companions, we went out to to submission with publishers in August. The response was extremely positive! I was thrilled to learn of editors and their teams really getting into the book, even having nightmares about the creepy wooden figures who dominate the story. There’s something wickedly satisfying about spreading a wave of fear through your readers…

In the end we had four publishers looking to make an offer. I had the good fortune to go and meet them all in their offices before the auction started – I have to say, they were all wonderful and I was thrilled to think so many people were interested in my little book! After an exciting few days, my work finally found its perfect home with the auction winner, Alison Hennessey from Bloomsbury.

Best known for publishing the Harry Potter series, Bloomsbury won my heart with afternoon tea in their gorgeous Georgian era offices on Bedford Square. Every person I have met from the team is simply fantastic. I’m over the moon to be working with them all, particularly Alison. Other books she has worked on include Ruth Ware’s In A Dark Dark Wood and Eva Dolan’s Zigic and Ferreira series. She is launching a new imprint with Bloomsbury – the name has yet to be announced – and I am so proud to be one of its first authors. Hardback publication is scheduled for around October 2017. I will let you know when I have firm dates.

The US will be publishing slightly later, around the first months of 2018. US rights were picked up by the lovely Sarah Stein at Viking.

If that wasn’t good enough, I actually have a two book deal with Bloomsbury, so I can say with confidence you will also be able to read The Corset, another Victorian Gothic tale about a seamstress with supernatural powers. I’m working hard on this at the moment between edits. Watch this space for more news.

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Prologues

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I’ve been thinking about prologues recently – a topic that often arises in discussions about historical fiction. Are they useful? Do they just get in the way?

Personally, I never start out writing a prologue. I often add them further down the line when I start to worry my starting chapter does not have enough punch. With Queen of Bedlam, I jumped in time to show Charlotte and George toward the end of their lives in the prologue, before hopping back to the beginning of their marriage and finally to the ‘present.’ While I enjoyed writing the prologue for that book, I’ve come to think that it was probably a mistake. The jerk through time proved confusing and the prologue didn’t really add to the story. What I should have done was just focused on rewriting the opening chapter to make it more exciting. Oh well, we live and learn!

However, prologues can be useful, especially when they are in the voice of someone we will not hear from for the rest of the narrative. I have two examples of good prologues I can call to mind. Firstly, Karen Maitland’s The Gallow’s Curse. Not only is it shocking, pacey and well-written, it explains how the curse of the title comes about. The curse will later impact upon the main characters, but not in a way that they can investigate and ‘reveal’ to the reader. Therefore the prologue is essential for our information, even though the main characters may never find out about the events it shows.

My second example is from a wonderful book called The Ballroom by Anna Hope. I have to admit, when I first read it, I thought it was a bit redundant. Why is this prologue there? I thought. Surely it’s given away the ending? But no – what it had actually done was set me up to believe the book was going to end one way, when in fact something quite different was going on. It was a clever device and I was completely fooled.

In my latest book, The Silent Companions, I added a prologue in the third or fourth draft. My reasoning was that horror stories often start with a shocking death, to compensate for a slow build up of creeping dread in the opening chapters before the true action starts. As I had a character that was dead when the book began, I thought a prologue was a perfect opportunity to ‘kill’ him on the page. But actually, I didn’t need it. I started to doubt its purpose and my agent allayed my fears by telling me the opening was strong enough without it. So off the prologue went into the deleted scenes folder… And I think the book is better without it.

However, just for fun, I’d like to share the deleted prologue with you. It is not a spoiler in any way. This character is dead when the book begins – although he now dies in a very different way to the one shown below. The companions have also changed – they no longer have the plant-like creepers that chase poor Rupert. Although the story is now different, I hope this little snippet will whet your appetite for the book when it comes out :)

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Prologue

The Bridge

He thought he would have more time.

His pocket watch showed a minute to midnight. Already they stirred above him; creaking, whining, hissing. Rupert rubbed his eyes with his good hand, chasing the sleep away. Time enough for sleep soon.

A dying fire touched his surroundings with orange streaks. He must have dozed in the chair, for they had been there: the marks of them were all over the room. A pile of dead leaves and thistles rose to his ankles. His hand stung like the devil and yes – the wound was open, oozing, threaded with fresh splinters. He shuddered, imagining them peering over him while he slept. They could have taken him, easily. But that was not their method. They wanted him awake.

Rising to his feet, he waded through the leaves toward the bureau. The equipment was all there: the two bottles and his last cigar. Glass clanked as he put the bottles in his pockets. They felt like leaden weights. He closed his eyes, trying to steady his breath. The moment had come. He had to do this right – for Elsie’s sake.

He took the cigar and the stub of his candle and lit them in the embers of the fire. Tears filled his eyes, making an orange, smoky blur. Only a couple of flames remained; the light was fading fast.

Creeping to the door, he pushed it open a fraction. Listened. The relentless hiss that haunted his dreams floated down the corridor, raising gooseflesh on his arms. They were above him, without a doubt. Rupert placed one eye to the gap between the door and the jamb. The corridor lay in darkness. He had to go now.

His slippers moved across the sawdust on the landing. He had taken the room next to the nursery on purpose – it was the closest to the servants’ stairs. Jamming the cigar in his mouth, he held up his candle and opened the baize door with his bad hand. It was excruciating. A thousand needles burnt up his wrist. His fingers were heavy, stiff, creaking at the joints. If this was what one touch did, he did not want to know the agony of their embrace.

As Rupert spiralled down shallow, winding steps his candle sent shadows capering up the walls. The stairwell amplified the hiss; it was all around him, vibrating in the very air he breathed. How did the servants sleep?

He stumbled into the kitchen, exhaling a cloud of smoke. For a moment, his courage failed. The housekeeper had heard it, hadn’t she? Perhaps it was not as he feared, perhaps it was not the tricks of his own mind. But then he looked at the mangled mess of his hand and remembered.

He pushed on into the larder, trying not to think of his parents, but their images rose out of the darkness. Poor Mama, raving on the bed, her ankle splintered and torn just like his hand. Then the bandage on Father’s arm, days before he fell so tragically from the second floor. Fell. His heart reached out, down the years, finally understanding: it was no accident. Father did what needed to be done. He saw the madness coming and saved the family’s reputation.

Setting the candle down, he rattled the bottles out of his pockets. They glimmered weirdly in the low light. He’d taken all the precautions he could: complaining of stomach aches, ordering laudanum for his wound. They could trace poison now – he had to throw the coroner off the scent. If they didn’t rule his death as accidental, Elsie would lose everything.

He opened the bottle of laudanum awkwardly with one hand. Its vapid, bitter scent mingled with the cigar smoke. Then he uncorked the second bottle containing tiny arsenic grains and tipped them into the laudanum. He expected something – a fizz, a reaction. The liquid just stared back at him, dull and reddish brown.

Hiss.

His shoulders trembled. How had it come to this? All those years he had lived, never suspecting that a curse lurked deep down inside of him. It must be hereditary – a fever of the brain, passed on through blood. It had demented his mother, consumed his father; he never stood a chance.

Hiss, hiss.

He removed the cigar from his mouth and laid it on the table. This was the time to prove himself. Could he do it? As he picked up the bottle, his nostrils filled with its sharp, deadly aroma. Everything in him recoiled. He wanted life, he wanted to be with Elsie.

The glass rim touched his lip. He could taste the vapours, their dizzying pull. Still he hesitated. Her beautiful face swam before his eyes. He did not know how he would disgrace her less: as a suicide, or as a mad man.

Hiss. Creak.

He could get better. There were medicines, these days. Better treatment than his mother ever –

‘Christ!’

A bolt of pain shot up his leg, jolting him forward. His fingers slipped and nearly dropped the bottle. Hot blood oozed between his toes. He looked down.

A thick creeper wound through the open door and around his ankle, bristling with thorns. Its pointed end pierced right through his slipper, through his foot, pinning it to the ground. He went giddy. Shadows concealed the worst of the gore but he could hear his flesh, squelching and sucking as the creeper moved.

The pain. The pain. There was no time for second thoughts. In one desperate slug he forced his toxic drink down.

He grabbed the empty bottles and his cigar. It was too late to follow his plan and fill the laudanum bottle with black tea – he would have to take his chances. Gritting his teeth, he yanked his foot from the floor. The sound was worse than the agony – a sickly rip as he forced himself out of the larder and into the passage that led to the kitchen.

Barely conscious, he pulled up the loose stone in the floor and hid his empty bottles under it. That would have to do. It was bad enough there would be blood in the larder – he couldn’t risk the bottles being found.

The creeper slithered after him.

Hell and damnation. It was all going wrong. He couldn’t leave a trail of blood, he would have to clean his foot up. Limping into the kitchen, he found a muslin for boiling puddings and wrapped it around his blood-caked slipper, adding a sack on top for good measure. As he tied it he heard them creaking, creaking ever closer. Time had nearly run out.

He stubbed out his cigar. The candle was still in the larder – he would have to go back up in the dark. The idea should terrify him but he was warm, lightheaded. It would not be long before the drugs pulled him under.

He climbed the servant’s stairs as if he were treading water. His feet were heavy, too slow. Now and then he felt the creeper teasing at his heels. It could go faster if it wanted, but it liked the chase.

Just as he reached the top of the staircase, a white hot fist squeezed his gut. He gasped. That would be the arsenic. Only a little farther . . .

Hobbling across the landing, he saw their silhouettes waiting in the shadows. He swallowed the vomit that rose in his throat. They wanted him to look into their dead eyes and feel fear, but he would not do it. Soon he would never have to see them again.

He crashed into the bedroom. The spluttering fire showed a hoard of them gathered by the window. Despite their vile faces, he laughed.

‘Better . . . luck . . . next . . . time.’

Somehow he hauled himself into bed. A low whine signalled their approach. Come on, come on. He was too tired for fear, too tired for anything, but he willed the poison on with the last ounce of his strength.

Elsie . . . He wished he had written to her properly. If he’d known it would be tonight, he could have prepared. But perhaps it was best this way. She’d never know of the brain fever that took his mother, that forced his father to . . . He only prayed she’d stay away from this cursed house.

Creeak.

God, how it burned. But he would brave it out. The muscle spasms, the sweat pouring from his skin – they were his victory over them.

Through fading eyes he looked up and saw it blurred beside his bed: the figure of the little girl. Close, very close. But the warmth was flowing in now, a tide of comfort and sleep. He tried to smile – his lips would not move.

Too late. He wanted to crow, but he could only think the words as the wooden face loomed up before him. Too late.

He had won.

The Silent Companions

It’s been a busy few months on the writing front! You may remember that around Christmas time I shared some links to websites about ‘silent companions’ – historical dummy boards used as tricks of the eye. Since about September 2014 I’ve been working on a ghost story involving these creepy figures, and I finally sent the manuscript out on submission to literary agents in January 2016.

I was lucky enough to catch the interest of three wonderful agents. After meeting them all and discussing our ideas for the book, I’m delighted to say that I signed up with Juliet Mushens of United Talent Agency. Juliet is a fun and inspiring agent, a real credit to her profession, and I feel remarkably fortunate to be working with her on this.

It’s an adventure to start out in a new genre. Switching between biographical and ‘spooky’ helps to keep my mind focused and heightens my writing enjoyment. Let’s hope I can find a publisher for these new projects! At the moment I’m preparing a new draft of THE SILENT COMPANIONS, unpicking some plot lines and redoing them in a new thread. I’m also a good way into my second ghostly/spooky Victorian novel, THE CORSET. I’m very, very excited about this one and can’t wait to share it with you all.

Between these two Victorian novels and Mrs Fitzherbert, there won’t be much time for blogging, but I’ll try to drop by whenever I can and keep you updated. In the meantime, stay well and God bless.

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Recommended Reading

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I haven’t been able to give you much to read on the blog in recent months, struggling as I am with my novels about George IV. With so many confused and confusing characters, posts have rather fallen by the wayside. However, I wanted to recommend some excellent Georgian-themed books I’ve read recently to keep you occupied while you await my next one!

The first is Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann. I am still thinking about this book and the characters, which is always the mark of a good read. It follows three very different characters: Sophia, the well-raised daughter of a country squire; Betsy-Ann, gypsy turned prostitute turned gin dealer; and Fortunate, a slave who seems to be anything but. On the surface these three have nothing in common, but their lives are linked by one man, Ned Hartry. By turns Ned appears as the Ace, the King and the Knave but we can’t tell what he is really up to – or indeed, who will pay the price of his games.

The real beauty of this novel is voice – McCann manages to capture a trio of distinct and compelling voices that carry the plot along. I liked the Hogarthian atmosphere and the use of historical language, however the cant was perhaps a little overdone. When it’s necessary to include a whole glossary in the back of the book to explain the historical words in the story, you can’t help feeling they should have been reduced. This was the only fault I found. Some reviews on Goodreads say that they didn’t like the end of the book, but I think it was believable with just the right mix of comeuppance and tragedy. Highly recommended.

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Next, a non-fiction, and one that has been sitting on my shelf for a while. Janice Hadlow’s The Strangest Family made me so happy with its balanced and insightful view into the lives of George III and Queen Charlotte. As you know, I’m rather hard to please on this topic! I really felt that Hadlow understood Charlotte and grasped her depression – something lacking in many other biographies. What’s more, she gave a good rounded view of George III, not trying to paint him either as a saint or a tyrant, but listing his virtues alongside explanations for his faults. A particularly helpful fact was that Hadlow chose to give an indepth summary of the events leading up to George’s birth and upbringing, something often overlooked but absolutely essential to understand the man and his actions. While I didn’t love it quite as much as Flora Fraser’s Princesses, it is one of the very best books I have read on the Hanoverians.

mary-anne-daphne-du-maurierI’m currently reading Mary Anne, a novel about the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. I was hugely excited to start this, being a massive fan of Du Maurier. I have to say, it’s not her best and feels a little disjointed. However, there are some fantastic scenes and insights into the life of a Georgian mistress. I particularly like the part of the story dealing with the young Mary Anne, a girl whose quick wits lifted her from the streets. To fully enjoy the book, I think you need to have at least a basic grasp of the period already and the celebrities of the time. It’s more one for established Georgian fans than beginners in historical fiction.

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Holidays and Projects

d9f0306bc8258004b689d9203f9a4b24I wanted to take this brief breathing space between Christmas and New Year to wish all my blog readers the happiest of holidays! Here’s a cartoon from 1803 reminding us that many a Georgian Christmas was spent at war. However, if you were lucky enough to stay peacefully at home, you would be tucking into roast beef – not a turkey in sight!

I also wish to apologise for the lack of updates to the blog this year. I will be popping in from time to time and sharing new articles about the Hanoverians, but I’m trying to concentrate more on my actual writing for the moment. Whilst the blog gives me joy, it doesn’t do a great deal to sell books or push the series along. I’m currently working on my novel about Maria Fitzherbert and George IV, tentatively titled either A Forbidden Crown or Queen of Tides. I’ve also made a start on Queen of Misrule, about Caroline of Brunswick. These exciting and eccentric figures will keep me busy for some time!

On the side, I’ve branched out into some Victorian horror writing! It’s been a lot of fun and very different. For just over a year now I’ve been chiseling away at my book called The Silent Companions, based on a little known piece of historic decoration. If you’d like to find out more about the spooky silent companions, this National Trust post and the Pastmastery blog can give you an idea of what I’m doing.

With all my best wishes for a wonderful 2016.

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Dukes of Cumberland Part 1 – William

Names can be a tricky thing in historical fiction. While working on Mistress of the Court, I was faced with several name-related challenges. Firstly, nearly every male character was called George. I managed to get around this by using the German version of George I’s name, Georg Ludwig, and I felt this was appropriate as his heart always remained in Hanover. A later character, George Berkeley, was simply always referred to by his surname.

Then there were the changing titles. For example, at the beginning of my narrative, Lord Chesterfield would have been called Stanhope. But with so many characters at court, I didn’t feel my readers would be able to keep up with changes like these, so I just referred to him as Chesterfield from the very start. A cheat, but I hope a forgivable one.

Titles are tricky, because so many people end up holding them. Since I research a period ranging from 1714-1837, dukedoms and earldoms change hands many times. So when I’m reading a book and they mention the Duke of York, I have to do a quick double-think to remember who it actually was at that time.

One title, however, seems to crop up a lot, and it always means trouble. The title Duke of Cumberland came to be infamous, at least for the Georgian era. In the period of my research, three different princes held the dukedom – and all three of them were scandalous in their way!

Over the next few weeks, I will give you a run down of the dastardly dukes, in chronological order.

We start with William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, (1721-1765). William holds the distinction of being the first Hanoverian prince born on English soil. He was a precious child, a much wanted son for George II and Caroline, who had lost three babies before his birth and were separated from their only other boy.

William as a boy

William as a boy

Today we remember him as ‘Butcher’ Cumberland, due to the role he played in the battle of Culloden. This final decisive clash of the Jacobite rebellion resulted in the death of many Scots who, despite their inferior firepower, were shown no quarter. Wounded men on the battlefield were shot dead and even worse, the surrounding areas were pillaged and burnt. The King’s army were determined to show that treason would not be tolerated; raping, hanging and eradicating the Highland way of life. Great as the tragedy was, I think it is a little unfair to blame the entire thing on William. Instead of the Butcher of Culloden, I think he should be called a Butcher of Culloden – for there were certainly many other men involved in the atrocities. Indeed, William was originally hailed as a hero when he returned – it was only as details of the battle and its aftermath crept out that public opinion began to turn.

Refreshingly, when writing Mistress of the Court, I got to look at William from his doting mother’s point of view. She died some nine years before Culloden, so it could not figure in her assessment of him at all. What I found behind the soldier was a spoilt, rather precocious child of great physical courage.

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

Leanach Cottage, Culloden Moor

From the start, his parents lavished attention on him. He had leather cushions for his dogs and and entire suite to himself in Hampton Court Palace. His mother took him everywhere with her, and he particularly like to throw silver coins from her carriage. His father encouraged him in a military life from an early age, giving him a troop of small boys to drill. Rather predictably, William began to get a sense of pride and answer his parents back back. He refused to fast on 30 January in remembrance of King Charles I’s death, saying he did not know that the people were wrong to execute Charles –  he hadn’t read that history book yet! But he also showed some signs of refinement, taking no food at his birthday ball because he ‘didn’t think it looked well to be pulling greasy bones about in a room full of princesses.’

It seems William was a handsome child and young man, although later on a battle wound to his leg would prevent him from exercising and make him extremely corpulent. Despite wishing to reform the army and introduce new discipline, he was not a very successful soldier. He certainly tried hard to serve his father the King, but after years of service the two quarreled. In his usual tempestuous way, George II heaped blame on William for misunderstanding his orders and greeted his son with the words, ‘Here is my son who has ruined me and disgraced himself, ruined his country and his army, has spoiled everything and lost his own reputation.’ Having become very familiar with George II’s furious tirades, I must say I admire the way William responded to the outburst. He very calmly told the King’s mistress that he was tendering his resignation. When George II inevitably calmed down later and tried to make amends, William was firm. He would always show the greatest respect for his father the King, but he would never again serve under him as a soldier.

Soldier William

Soldier William

William’s career therefore ended at the age of thirty-eight. It was just as well, for in the coming years he fell prey to a series of strokes that left him partially paralysed. He amused himself by following horseracing and boxing and throwing himself into the office of Ranger of Windsor Forest. He constructed Virginia Water and a private zoo.

Whilst William had a few brief mistresses, there was no lasting romantic attachment in his life. He never married, living instead with his sister Emily (Amelia). After his elder brother’s death in 1751, William tried to gain influence with and advise his nephew the future King George III. However, George and his mother Augusta distrusted William, seeming to see him as another Richard III.

The old battle wound on William’s thigh continued to trouble his health. With more strokes and complications caused by his corpulence, he was not long for the world. He died aged only 44, in his chair – not the glorious end on a battlefield he might have envisaged for himself. But though his life was short and not, after childhood, particularly happy, the reputation he had earned in the Jacobite rebellion would see him go down in history as one of the great villains.

William in later years

William in later years

 

The Tour Begins

P1000108It’s been a busy few weeks with the launch of Mistress of the Court and the start of my Waterstones tour. Henrietta and Caroline got off to a cracking start with my signing at Bury St Edmund’s and a party for my family and friends at the beautiful historic Tymperley’s tea rooms.

I’ve guest posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors site about Marble Hill , where both Henrietta Howard and Maria Fitzherbert lived. I was also delighted to have my first magazine article appear in Historical Novels Review, the magazine for members of the Historical Novel Society. Hopefully my Hanoverian battle cry will inspire more readers to explore this amazing dynasty. For my own part, I’m deep in research for my next two novels, which will focus on Maria Fitzherbert and Caroline of Brunswick. The working titles are Queen of Tides (Maria) and Queen of Misrule (Caroline).

IMGYesterday I attended a talk by Philippa Gregory at the National Theatre, where she spoke about her latest novel The Taming of the Queen, centering on Katherine Parr. It sounds interesting and I will be keen to see how it compares to Elizabeth Fremantle’s Queen’s Gambit, which I adored. However, while The Taming of the Queen is still in hardback at £20, you might want to keep yourselves busy reading Mistress of the Court to fill the time until it comes out in paperback 😉 I will be signing copies at Waterstones Colchester from 12 noon on 15 August and at Waterstones Chelmsford from 11.30 to 1pm on 29 August. See you there!

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Launch Day!

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Raise a glass of virtual champagne, it’s publication day! Mistress of the Court is out in UK paperback now.

There are plenty of exciting offers to kick off the launch. If you missed the Goodreads giveaway that closed today, do not fear. My publisher is offering a special pre-order price on the Kindle edition, which comes out on 25 September 2015. You can reserve yours now for just £1.99 ($3.10 US, $4.99 AUS). The price will go up after publication, so make sure you lock into this deal.

For UK readers, I’m delighted to announce I will be signing at Waterstones Bury St Edmunds on 8 August 2015 between 10:00 and 12:00 and Waterstones Colchester on 15 August 2015 between 12:00 and 13:00. The staff are wonderful and both shops are lovely, so please do come along and see us. If you can’t make it in person, they can take your reservation over the phone and post a signed copy to you.

Mistress of the Court will also be going on its own virtual blog tour with TLC. Watch this space for reviews and more!

Giveaway Time

Mistress of the Court

Make haste, there are only a few days left to enter the Goodreads giveaway for Mistress of the Court! An amazing 20 copies are up for grabs for UK readers. Entries close on 4 August 2015, so get in quick!

Enter Here

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