When we think of the British royal family, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle immediately spring to mind. But it’s interesting to discover both these iconic residences owe much of their modern prominence to a relatively recent king: George III.
George III came to the throne in 1760, determined to live in a different style from his forebears. He disliked the formal, stately palaces of Kensington and Hampton Court, which he associated with his hated grandfather. While he was happy to perform ceremonial duties in St. James’s Palace, he wanted a peaceful home for his wife and children. To this end he purchased a modest red brick house from the Duke of Buckingham, informing his Prime Minister it was “not meant for a palace, but a retreat”.
Naturally, Buckingham House required some remodelling to become “Queen’s House” – the name it went by during George III’s reign. But rather than vamping it up, George actually had the house toned down. Grand iron screens were replaced by simple railing, while the elaborate formal gardens were simplified.
This was in keeping with George’s modest tastes. His apartments, on the ground floor were sparsely decorated by royal standards, painted green-grey “without the smallest affectation, ostentation or meanness.” The grandest rooms were the King’s great libraries; the two storey octagon library that could only be entered through his bedchamber and the west library, connected directly to the weather-vane so the King could see how his fleet fared at sea.
However, George and his young wife Charlotte were not adverse to a little splendour. The Queen’s rooms, on the next floor, were a show case for her collections of watches and curiosities. Mrs Powys notes the queen had “the most capital pictures, the finest Dresden…besides the gilt plate, innumerable nick-nacks”.It seems that then, as today, decorative touches and fashionable décor were considered part of the women’s realm. We can glimpse red damask walls and marble chimney pieces in paintings of Charlotte with her young children, as well as black and gold “japanned” panels in her breakfast room. Antique roman ceilings and crystal chandeliers blocked out the next storey, which held the nursery and the servants. Rather usefully, the upper storey had “floors so contrived as to prevent all noise” from disturbing the queen.
Although George and Charlotte succeeded in making Queen’s House a family home, where the majority of their children were born, it didn’t fulfill their need to improve and develop. Windsor Castle was another project taken up by the royal couple. Long disused, the castle itself was unfit for habitation, so they bought up two lodges nearby, one of which used to belong to Queen Anne, the other to Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn. Vast extensions were made to accommodate George and Charlotte’s swelling family, giving the buildings the look of a barracks. Nonetheless, only the finest decorations were to be found inside; paper hangings, carved gilt frames, curtains of white dimity with cotton fringes, Portland stone staircases and chairs knotted with floss silk.
Once more, Windsor became a focal point of royal life, as it was in the Stuart days. George liked the country life at Windsor, building his own mill and miniature farm. I get the feeling that Charlotte was less keen, staying indoors with a migraine while her husband took the children on long, muddy, “barbaric” walks about the countryside.
Between 1781 and 1804 renovation work took place at the castle. While apartments remained unfinished, courtiers often urged one another to bring warm cloaks for the drafty corridors and thick boots for the gravel of the terrace. Even when building was complete, the rooms remained cold. Charlotte complained of needing to huddle up with her daughters in furs beside the fire. She was not allowed carpets as the King said they harboured dust. I imagine she would have rather stayed in her lodge, but alas it was demolished. Luckily for Charlotte, she was able to buy Frogmore House as her little retreat within the grounds of Windsor, and decorate it more to her own taste.
Charlotte and George’s son, George IV, remodelled Queen’s House into Buckingham Palace and restored Windsor Castle to a state of pure opulence, making them the grand houses we know today. However, amongst these success stories for the family there is one poignant project that was never finished: George III’s “Castellated Palace” at Kew. A gothic wonder of turrets, the Castellated Palace was conceived in one of George’s many bouts of illness. He was to make “Ludlow Castle, improved”, a fortress in stone. But with an eccentric, sick king, an architect with “a certain lack of diligence” and a shortage of workmen, the plan was doomed to failure. Running up bills of £100,000 – over twice its original estimate- the Castellated Palace was finally abandoned when George became incurable in 1810. The shell remained, “an image of distempered reason”, until George IV demolished it in the late 1820s, using the building materials for other projects.
Yesterday I was researching at Kensington Palace (my second office, as I like to think of it), which has a wealth of Hanoverian connections. My main reason for going was to see Past Pleasures, who are putting on a wonderful series of Georgian re-enactments for the 300th anniversary of George I’s accession. I was lucky enough to meet the Duchess of Richmond (later mother to the infamous Lady Sarah Lennox) and assist her in dressing Queen Caroline. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos for you. To protect the precious history inside Kensington, flash is not allowed and my camera refuses to take anything but a black blur without flash. So you will just have to go and see it for yourself!
While I was wandering round, I decided to visit the wonderful Victoria Revealed exhibition again. If you haven’t been I would highly recommend it. Victoria’s world is brought to life with her words stenciled on the walls and a wealth of her personal possessions. Her black baby boots are one of my favourite pieces, along with the bracelet of hearts commemorating the birth of each of her children. You also get to see Victoria’s beautiful wedding dress. What I love about this is that Victoria was only 5ft 1 and they have displayed her dress in front of a mirror. So if you stand before it and angle your head, you can see how you would look wearing the dress! (Yes, it did suit me rather well.)
The exhibition reminded me how much I love Victoria. Yes, she was neurotic, obsessed and a pretty bad mother but she was also brave, loyal and fiercely intelligent. The mix of good and bad in her is one that fascinates me. I remember reading long extracts from her earlier diaries and really connecting with the young lady who tried to be good and loved her dog called Dash (my dog at the time was called Splash, I like to think they would have been friends). It began to trouble me that this Queen, who interested me so much, was not included in my Hanoverian monarchs series. She was the last Hanoverian Queen – and she was Hanoverian through and through. From her protruding blue eyes to her lust, temper tantrums and hatred of her eldest son, she lived and breathed the family characteristics I have come to know so well.
Initially, I suppose Victoria missed my list because she was a queen, in her own right. My books were planned as a series covering the women who loved the Hanoverian monarchs, and this monarch was a woman herself. Moreover, she is still a well known figure today, not a forgotten heroine without a voice. But yesterday I considered the women in Victoria’s life and realised there was much to say. Many talented authors have already covered the stories of Victoria’s daughters – but what about her mother?
Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld married George III and Queen Charlotte’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent. She had already been widowed once and was to find herself a widow again before many years had passed. She first began to interest me when I was researching the life of Princess Sophia for Queen of Bedlam. Sophia and Duchess Victoria were close friends. They had two things in common: concern for the upbringing of little Victoria and a fascination with John Conroy. There came other family ties as the years progressed: the Duchess’s brother, Leopold, married my favourite Georgian princess, Charlotte of Wales. As you will know if you read my blog, I am completely smitten by handsome Leopold, so naturally I also take an interest in his sister! I came across Victoria of Kent yet again when looking into the life of Queen Adelaide. As the Duchess’s daughter was to succeed Adelaide’s husband, the two often came into close contact. Poor Adelaide had to smooth the way on many occasions between William IV and the Duchess.
These disagreements with the King hint to Victoria of Kent’s character. She was proud, controlling and shrewd. She has an infamous reputation as the ultimate pushy mother who wanted to rule through her daughter. But actually, she was a woman left in very difficult circumstances who fought for the rights of her daughter. I think it would be amazing to explore the real woman behind this dark legend. Even more thrilling would be the chance to see and write about Victoria through her eyes. So I am adding Duchess Victoria of Kent to the Hanoverian Series. This will ensure I cover the dynasty from beginning to end (although Edward VII did have Hanoverian blood, and certainly the eyes, he was officially of the house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha because of his father). The book will be all the more interesting because it will start in the reign of George III and progress all the way to the beginning of the Victorian age. Quiet a fitting way, I think, to tie up the story. There are other novels to work on first, but I have to confess – I can’t wait to begin this one!
It’s always a pleasure to read new fiction set in the Georgian era, but that delight is intensified when the story is written by a captivating new author like Martine Bailey. I was lucky enough to get chatting to Martine on Goodreads, where she told me about her upcoming Georgian release. As you can imagine, my ears perked up and I dashed to the launch party! Since this blog is the haven of Georgian historical fiction, I’d like to share my thoughts on Martine’s wonderful book, which I have just finished reading.
I have to admit that if left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have picked An Appetite for Violets off the shelf. The cover and the title struck me as a bit girly to start with – I couldn’t have been more wrong! This is not a twee tale of flowers and baking, but a dark mystery that explores the underbelly of Georgian life. Venereal disease, unwed mothers, a cursed jewel, slavery and poison all feature in this rich adventure across 18th century Europe.
Our heroine is Biddy Leigh, a straight-forward but kind-hearted undercook at the old estate of Mawton Hall. At the beginning of the story, Biddy’s life seems simple. She is planning to marry a local lad and save for a tavern of her own. But when the master of Mawton Hall takes a new wife, a rich young woman descends on Biddy’s world and changes it forever. Biddy’s good heart and ambition draw her deeper into her mistress’s life, until she is forced to leave all she knows behind. Stuck abroad with a secretive employer and increasingly shifty fellow-servants, she must use all her wits before she is entrapped.
Biddy has to be one of my favourite heroines to appear for a long time. Whilst hard-working and generous, she has a sharp tongue and will not be taken for a fool. She felt very realistic to me – in almost every situation, she acted as a normal person would do. Moreover, I found her a convincing representation of a rural eighteenth-century servant; keen to advance, loyal, gently mocking of the rich folk whilst envying their possessions. But the real triumph of Biddy has to be her language. As you know from my previous posts, I often struggle when historical authors use outdated words. Sometimes it seems they are just chucking them in to sound clever, or it distracts from the meaning of the sentence. Not so with Martine Bailey. Every Georgian slang word Biddy uses is clearly expressed, and is often used to marvelous comic effect. I have never seen language so lightly and skillfully interwoven into a historical character.
There are other voices in the narrative: that of Loveday, a slave forced to work as a footman; Mr Pars, whose correspondence Loveday reads to us and most importantly, the recipe book The Cook’s Jewel. I liked the touch of letters telling part of the story; it reminded me of the eighteenth-century epistolary novels. And while I am no cook, I found the old recipes intriguing. You do not have to be a foodie to love this book (although you will adore it if you are one!). Bailey’s descriptions and Biddy’s enthusiasm soon give you an appetite for a fascinating culinary world.
Loveday’s character is excellent and again, his speech is convincing. He speaks imperfect English, but it is never hard or jarring to read. Bailey has clearly done her research on the island and culture Loveday would have come from, giving a wonderful glimpse into the man behind the slave. Through his foreign eyes we see oddities of eighteenth-century culture that Biddy would not remark upon as strange. We also root for him on his quest to discover the man he once was. But along the way, Loveday manages to discover one or two other things that thicken the plot . . .
It is very hard to find a genre for An Appetite for Violets. It is a historical novel with mystery, crime, romance, comedy and gothic elements. Whilst parts of the story are dark, the book has an overall cheerful feel to it. It is easy to read and never feels cumbersome. I suppose at the end of the day, it is like one of Biddy’s recipes. There are many ingredients, some of which you would hesitate to blend together, but when all is mixed and cooked, the finished dish is a triumph.
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When you buy Queen of Bedlam next Tuesday (which you’re obviously going to do, right?) you will see an advert in the back for next year’s novel Mistress of the Court. This will tell the story of George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard and her formidable mistress Queen Caroline. There was literally so much to squeeze into this book that I didn’t get as much space as I wanted to explore the life of George II’s five daughters – maybe another novel in the future! But it’s George and Caroline’s third daughter, another Caroline, who I want to tell you about today. In Mistress of the Court I refer to her as Carrie to avoid confusion with her mother, and will do so here too.
Carrie was always a sickly child. In her infancy, her ill health forced her to remain behind in Hanover with Prince Frederick while the rest of her family went to take the British throne. Inured to suffering, she was an empathetic child who took on the role as peacemaker between her siblings. She was extremely close to her eldest sister Anne, but when Anne married Carrie became the confidante and main companion of her mother. Despite her mild nature, Carrie shared her mother’s disgust with the behaviour of her brother Prince Frederick and vowed she would leave the palace at a grand gallop the moment he became king. Another thing she shared with her mother was a tendency to hold onto weight. It doesn’t show in the portrait above, but Carrie became hugely fat.
Three of George II’s five daughters married – the spinsters were Amelia and Carrie. Amelia was quite content with her unmarried state, as she explained in an impassioned letter to her sister Anne, but Carrie was not. She had an affectionate heart and it seems she had bestowed it on her mother’s servant Lord Hervey. Not only was Hervey married, he took both male and female lovers. But Carrie was not one of them. While Hervey’s memoirs show he had a high respect and friendship for the princess, he had no romantic interest in her.
Carrie was devastated by the death of her mother and the love of her life, which came within a few years of each other. However, she managed to drag on her sad existence, taking comfort in charitable work before she died at the age of just 44.
In many respects Carrie is now a forgotten princess. Given her good nature and courage, she does not deserve to be so. To give her a voice, I have written as short story about her experience as I imagine it when Queen Caroline died. I hope you will enjoy it. Please remember, as always, it is my copyright.
Nothing prepares you for the loss of a mother. It is a secret terror; a scream locked deep inside your head. You are never ready; not even when the colour drains from her eyes and age folds her skin. It is always too soon.
I was with her inspecting work on the new library, dizzy with the scent of shaved wood and paint, when she fell. One moment she stood tall, barking orders to the builders. Then she collapsed, her limbs folding like a marionette with its strings cut.
Help. The word stuck in my throat, blocked by terror. She lay, a mountain of flesh with brocade puddled around her. I yearned to run, to help, to scream, but I could do nothing. My body froze to the spot.
Servants swarmed around my mother, calling. I couldn’t hear them. It all moved around me in a magic lantern show, as if I had no part in the proceedings.
At last, someone shoved me forward and I bent over her prone form. “Mama?” My voice came strangled. “Did your legs give way, Mama? Is it the gout?”
Her red, blotchy face gaped at me, a landed carp. She couldn’t speak. I had never known my indomitable mother lost for words before.
They put her to bed at St. James’s Palace, shutting daylight out of her room and burning sour vinegar. I took my usual place, the favourite daughter’s place: at her side. It was cruel to see pain carved into those beloved features. I thought of all the times I had fallen down as a child and she had picked me up, the many nights she’d sat by my sickbed. Now I had to be strong for her. Alas, I never had the steely character of my mother, the Queen. Soft as a bag of feathers, she called me. But I knew, as I watched her sweaty head toss and turn on the pillow, grey curls plastered to her forehead, that she was a part of me. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. I was even named for her.
At last, Lord Hervey came. When his elegant form swept into the room, a vision of peacock silk and silver embroidery, my shoulders relaxed. This man I worshipped and admired in secret would make everything right.
Lord Hervey clamped his hat under his elbow. “My dear Princess Caroline! What is this? What ails the Queen?”
I started up, knocking my knees against the side of the mattress. My cheeks burnt, as they always did in his presence. “She fell,” I gasped. “She fell.”
My mother shifted on the bed, groaning. “My Lord Hervey, it is that nasty colic I had at Hampton Court. It’s intolerable to be plagued with a new distemper, at my age.” Her chest moved – she tried to laugh, but it turned into a retch. I grabbed a bowl and ran forward, turning her head as vomit spilled from her mouth.
Panic scrabbled inside me. “My lord, you suffer from colic. What do you take? The doctors will administer nothing until the King returns.”
He drew away, nose wrinkled at the stench of sick. “Er – snake-root. Brandy.”
My eyes filled with tears. “Fetch some, for mercy’s sake. Please. I must give her some relief.”
We tried everything: Sir Walter Rayleigh’s Cordial, Daffy’s Elixir, usquebaugh, mint water. She brought them back up.
She held my arm, blue eyes shining like chips of ice. “Poor Caroline, you are very ill too. We will soon meet in a better place.”
By the time the King arrived, I was frantic. I don’t recall anything but the blare of his voice. I’d cried my eyes in to swollen, puffy slots. Exhausted pressure swam around my head until finally it erupted in a nosebleed. They sent me to bed, stained red and brown.
In the morning, my father unravelled. Enormous bags circled his eyes. He’d removed his wig to show a tender, stubbly scalp. His clothes were tousled; he must have laid the whole night beside her on the coverlet. “How the devil can you expect to sleep?” he barked. “You are always moving about.”
I bristled; would he continue to berate my mother, even now? But when I looked into his face I saw my own stark terror staring back at me. He shouted only from fear.
“It hurts,” the Queen gasped. “I have to move when it hurts.”
The doctors cut into the crook of her elbow and caught dark blood in a porcelain bowl. They heated cups and made blisters on her legs. My mother wept. With every tear that fell from her eye, another piece of my world crumbled.
The next day my father spoke to Dr Ranby. “I know what this illness proceeds from. But I promised the Queen I would never speak of it.”
A strange sound rose from the bed; something between a wheeze and groan. “What are you saying, you lying fool?” I’d never heard that venom in my mother’s voice.
The King’s face drooped and he shook his head. “She has a rupture.”
“I don’t! You blockhead! All the pain is here!” She clamped a hand to her stomach.
The King nodded to Dr Ranby. They moved forward; my father held her down as she screamed. Ranby probed her abdomen; his eyes grew dull. “It is a rupture. Your Majesty has concealed it too long already. There is no time to be lost.”
My mind twirled with the news, imagining a rupture in her stomach, in my family. How long had it been there? And my father knew? Jealousy teased my thoughts. My mother shared all with me – I couldn’t imagine why she’d conceal something like this.
Lord Hervey held my hand through the operation. In spite of everything, a chink of my soul rejoiced at his touch. It was a sickening business. The rupture swelled red and fierce, a rosebud pushing out beneath the skin. The surgeons cut away until sweat drenched through their clothes and they were obliged to change.
“You are the best woman in the world,” my father repeated. “The very best.”
He was right. My mother was braver than us all. Even when she groaned, there was an apology. “Don’t mind me. I know you’re only trying to help.”
I yearned to be like her. But I was a brunette to her blonde, plain before her beauty, weak beside her strength. They put me in the ante-room and bled me from both arms. My hope seeped away with the dark, red liquid. What was I without her? I cared for no other in my family. No one understood me.
When I awoke in the night, I found him, curled on a couch at the foot of my bed. My Lord Hervey; his soft feminine features, grey in the gloom. I longed to reach out and touch him, to plant a kiss on those delicate lips. He must care for me. Why else would he come? He couldn’t love his wife, when he spent so many hours here.I thought then that perhaps the operation would work. The Queen’s illness would turn into a blessing. I would lie in the same room as my secret love and watch him sleep, and tomorrow he would show his heart.
But it was a fantasy. All that met me in the morning was a hideous squelching sound. I dashed into the Queen’s room. Tangy, rotten smells clawed at the back of my throat. I danced back, eyes watering, as something wet seeped through the toe of my stockings. It couldn’t be . . .
Horror possessed me. My mother’s stomach was a fountain, oozing brown filth. Reeking liquid soaked through her shift, her coverlets, and dripped onto the floor. My knees gave way. Crawling in muck, I vomited.
“I wish it was at an end!” she wailed, splashing her hands on the stained bed. “But my nasty heart will not break.”
Hers was the only one that did not. Dr Ranby whispered to my father with tears in his eyes, his voice like gravel. “Your Majesty, I fear there is no hope.”
My father whipped round and punched him in the face.
When they’d cleaned and stopped the vile flow, we clustered round her. Everything still smelt of manure.
My head buzzed. I couldn’t believe this would be the last time. How could I put what she meant to me into words, into a look? My mind groped the black void of a future without her. It was cold and airless. I would never survive.
“I leave you a legacy, Caroline.” Her watery eyes bored into mine. “You must care for your little sisters. Supervise their education.”
I would rather act like a soldier and follow my leader into death. I wish she’d asked it of me. But what she required was much harder: she wanted me to live. To go on, without her.
The King blubbered like a boy. I hadn’t consider, until then, that my parents were in love. Perhaps my mother meant as much to him as Lord Hervey did to me.
“I have nothing to tell you, my dear.” She reached out, wincing, to take his hand. “I always told you my thoughts as fast as they arose. You know all.”
Absurd jealousy prickled my ribs. She was mine, not his. She had been there every minute of my life, even before I drew breath.
She withdrew her hand. A large, ruby ring sat on her stout finger, a glob of blood. I recognised it as the one she received at her Coronation; that day when she’d sparkled like sunshine on water. She pulled it off with difficulty and held it out to the King. “This is the last thing I have to give you. All I ever possessed came from you. My Will you will find a very short one: I give all I have to you.”
The King shielded his eyes. “Ah, God, let it alone! Is it not perfectly safe on your finger?” It occurred to me how solid the hand would turn after death. Waxy skin, frozen forever. Would we be able to prize her ring away? “You will grow well again,” the King said, leaning down to kiss her. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but they were not her own. “The doctors tell me you are better.”
Cruel hope shoved forward, seducing me with honeyed words. Why did it rear its head now, when I knew all was lost? Couldn’t it be kind and let me surrender?
My mother shook her head. “Remarry, when I’m gone.”
Sobs cracked from his chest. He cuffed his eyes again and again, but still the tears came. “No,” he panted. “Never! There is no woman fit to buckle your shoe! I will take mistresses.”
And suddenly, there it was: my mother’s wry smile. Her thin eyebrows arched. “My God, that never stopped you before.”
I was asleep in my room when the death rattle began. Satin and soft pillows shielded me from reality. But then Mrs Purcell’s cold hand darted beneath my quilt and clamped on my arm. I woke with a start. My chest was tight; I couldn’t fill my lungs.
Her gaunt face swam toward me through the shadows. Her eyes were wild. “It is the end.”
Somehow I gained my feet and dashed through the palace. I had to see her before, before . . . Only one candle burnt beside the bed. By the flickering flame, I saw her face, puffed and blue.
My father was there, and my sister Emily. The Queen wheezed at them. “Open the window. Pray.”
As the King darted to open the casement, Emily dropped to her knees. “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
There was a long, low creak, like the groan of a ship.
“No. It can’t be.” Grabbing a hand mirror from the Queen’s dressing table, I ran to her side and held it before her parched lips. No mist came; no drops of damp. It was over.
Just then, a gust of wind blew through the window and extinguished the candle. She was gone, leaving nothing but the aura of royalty, the ghost of her orange-blossom perfume. With no one to remain strong for, I broke down, my life ripped at the seams.
The King wept. I wanted none of his tears, the louse. He’d never been faithful; he’d distressed my mother with graphic tales of his conquests and hung portraits of his mistresses in their bedchamber. Now he had the hypocrisy to sob his heart out, as if he were the one to be pitied.
Lord Hervey practically carried me to my room, somehow supporting my bulky frame with his slender arms. I clung to him, desperate. My anchor, the only shred of humanity I still cared about. We sat together on my bed in silence, letting time stretch.
Grief numbed me to the core. Like a leech, it drained my vitality until there was nothing but a raw absence. The truth rattled in my skull but I couldn’t grab hold; it was hot enough to sear the skin from my hands. “What will I do?” I croaked.
He started from his reverie. “I don’t know.”
“What will you do? Your office dies with her.” A chasm opened inside me. Surely he wouldn’t leave the palace, rob me of my last comfort? “Will you ask the King for a place?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think so. Without her . . .” He didn’t finish.
Misery took me in a stranglehold. Burning tears rushed from my eyes. I couldn’t endure it. Fevered from lack of sleep, beaten down with grief, and now heartbroken too. I wished God had taken me, instead of the Queen. “You cannot leave.” I looked earnestly into his face, trying to convey my need in a single glance. But even as I did it, I knew my countenance was too pudgy and plain to touch his heart. “Please don’t leave me,” I whispered. “Whatever would I do without you?”
He took my hand and squeezed. My skin quivered with excitement. “You will marry, my dear princess. Duty no longer binds you. Fly free.”
Cruel man. Didn’t he realise I wanted none but him? The idea he could so happily consign me to another man mortified me. “Duty does bind me. I promised the Queen I would care for the little ones.”
Hervey’s eyes filled. Tears for her, not for me. “She would have wanted you to be happy.”
I deflated onto my bed. “Marriage would not make me happy,” I told the painted ceiling. “Because I cannot marry for love.”
I heard Hervey shift on the bed. “It doesn’t signify. I married for love, yet I am not happy.”
My pulse skittered. It was rare that he spoke of his wife, that goddess of shining black hair and lively eyes. “You do not love her, now?” I whispered with hope. “Your passion has burnt out?”
His voice came soft as velvet. “No. Transferred. The person I love is . . . unattainable.”
Every fibre thrilled. He couldn’t mean…? I propped myself up on my elbows, greedy for his words.
“You love another?” I panted, breathless. “A person barred to you from society and custom?”
He put one hand over his face. The other laced its trembling fingers through mine. “Oh, Caroline. It is such a relief to tell you at last.”
Joy rushed through me, warm as spirit. Only a few hours had passed since my mother’s death, but perhaps this was her last gift to me. My life would begin at her end.
I huddled against his arm, my heart in my throat. “The one I love is out of my reach, too.”
His hand squeezed mine. “Then, gentle Caroline, you will understand.”
“I do understand you.” Need throbbed through my voice. “I am always here to listen.”
He dropped the hand from his pale forehead and turned to face me. His eyes bore into my soul. Surely he saw my love, raw and naked in my look?
I swept down my eyelashes and wet my lips with the tip of my tongue. Blessed, blessed moment. It was going to happen at last: the dream I never dared hope would become reality.
But he kiss didn’t me. Instead, Hervey groaned. “It is churlish of me to burden you with my woes, at a time such as this.”
“No, not at all. Speak.”
He tilted his head in the shadows. I felt his breath, hot and sweet, brush my skin. “Sometimes I have thought you half-suspected the truth. But I couldn’t tell your mother. It would have slain me to see disgust or horror in her eyes.”
I couldn’t let him tread this path. He wouldn’t use my mother as an excuse to make us both miserable. He wasn’t so very low, to love a princess. Were it not for his wife, the Queen might have smiled on his suit.
“You should have confessed. She may have looked kindly upon you.” Upon us.
He shrugged. I wished I could make out his expression in the shifting darkness. “These things are too dangerous to speak of, without being sure.”
Words crowded my mouth. Hang the danger. I will run with you, anywhere. Defy the King. Defy them all. Let us be together.
“But now . . .?
He blew out his breath. “Now he is married. He loves his wife, and I have lost him.”
Reality slammed into me with the weight of a cannon ball. Tears pricked my eyes like tiny bayonets. “H-Him?” I stumbled. Then, the terrible image of Hervey, my love, holding another crystallised in my mind. “A man?”
He hung his head. “Stephen Fox.” Nausea pushed at the back of my throat; a sickness borne of jealousy and profound disappointment. Not mine, after all. Never mine. “You won’t tell, will you?” he asked anxiously.
I thought of my love, pushing through the soil like a green spear in springtime. Without light or heat, it would decay before a single bud showed, tainting the chill soil of my heart. A secret no one must know.
“No,” I whispered. “I will never tell a soul.”
It’s been a while since I last posted about being an author. I like to focus my blog on history, but I thought I’d take a break and tell you some more about the writing experience. After all, the publication of Queen of Bedlam is tantalisingly close!
When I started out writing, I loved reading blog posts from authors who had just signed with an agent or been offered a publishing deal. Not only did it remind me that it WAS possible, but it made me feel a bit like the Minion shown above. I was reading words direct from the special few who had made it over the hurdles I could not. They were demi-gods to me. Since they’d succeeded, they must have all the answers on their website? Right?
It’s been said before, but a writer can only tell you about their own publishing experience. Some people find success with an ease that makes the rest of us choke on bitter envy. Others are brilliant yet never catch a break. Of course there are things you can do to help your career and improve your writing, but at the end of the day nobody has a set of guidelines for you. They cannot say, ‘Do this and you will get published. Write like this and you will have a bestseller.’ But they try. I read many ‘top tips’ for submitting to agents along with writing ‘dos and don’ts’. Now, I wish people had posted less about ways to obtain success, and more about what to do with it when you actually get it. Sometimes you fight for something so long and hard that when you achieve your aim, you become a bit lost. You realise published authors are not demi-gods. They are people.
After my modest self-published success with God Save the King I had many people ask me what they could do to sell more copies of their own work. To be honest, I didn’t know what I’d done right. All I could suggest was to write a good book, package it professionally and talk about books with lots of people on the internet. I felt a bit embarrassed people were asking my opinion. I was just a self-published younger writer, after all. But what about now? My debut novel is hitting the shop in 11 days time. I’ve had good reviews from the public for my work, I’ve worked with two editors, been on TV, acquired an agent and been picked up by a publisher. Surely now I have confidence in my writing and feel invincible? Sadly, the answer is no. I remember being a child and thinking ‘When I’m 25, I’ll be able to deal with such and such because I’ll be mature.’ But then I hit 25 and still felt like exactly the same person: afraid and not really mature. The same is true of writing. You think ‘When I get a publisher, I’ll know my work is good.’ But the same self-doubt continues to plague you.
I’m not going to lie: being published is a hugely rewarding and exciting experience. When you see your cover design for the first time, you do the Snoopy happy dance. You cannot stop staring at it. Then your name appears in The Bookseller and the whole world seems to pause. Is this really happening? Will you walk into a bookshop and find your actual book on a shelf? Yes, of course you will, because you have two signings booked in the next month.
The problem is, you are not the super-confident author extraordinaire you thought you would be by this point. You are still the anti-social, hide in the corner with a book and cup of coffee type you always were. Only now you have to read out loud, do interviews and engage with the general public. Self-doubt is a funny thing; it warps your thoughts out of proportion. You handed in a draft of the manuscript you were pleased with, but now you re-read it and the stupidity of your own words overwhelms you. You have brilliant ideas about how you would write the whole thing differently if you could start from scratch. Then there is the angst. That’s one of the downfalls of being an author: imagination. You imagine everything that could go wrong. What if nobody buys the book? What if everybody buys it and hates it? What if no one turns up to your signings? What if your author signature looks stupid?
Then there are the people. Just being a blogger, I have encountered snarks and stalkers. I have no doubt there will be people who actively hate my book and make every effort to tell me so. But I also know that I have met all my favourite people in the world through books – whether working in a bookshop, attending a reading group, visiting a conference or using social media. They are the ones who will keep me going through the nerves. There will be people out there who adore my book. But in order to find them, I have to be brave and put myself out there. I have a launch party at Waterstone’s Ipswich on 11 June 2014 from 7-9pm and a signing at Waterstone’s Colchester on 21 June 2014 from 12.30pm. I do hope some of you will be able to join me there. Friendly faces in the crowd always help.
I’ve been very lucky with my publisher, but if you are aiming for a book deal, it is worth noting that things can and do go wrong. I have known authors who hate their cover, have a title that has little to do with the book or have been forced to make changes they do not want. There are those who have been dropped by their publisher after sales of the first book were modest. This is perhaps the most devastating thing of all. Working so hard, achieving your dream and then realising that it’s not all you thought it would be. That nobody really cares. Pursue your goals armed with the facts. Do not expect a sugar-coated world full of rainbows and fairy-dust. And most of all, have friends and family ready to help you through the ordeal. Even though my own experience has been positive, I think I would have imploded by now without my husband.
Having said all the above and made you aware of the pitfalls in the writing world, I must just add – look at my cover! Look at my beautiful cover! *squee*