Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sue Wilkes, a lovely author and friend!

I recently met up with lovely author Sue Wilkes in Bath. She'd been invited to a gorgeous afternoon out with Tim Bullamore (publisher of the Jane Austen magazine) and some of the ladies at the Jane Austen Centre to see Clare Tomalin's talk at the Bath Literary Festival. Sue and I met for lunch and had a lovely chat - we've corresponded for years ever since we did an article or two together on Jane Austen's Regency World magazine, but this was the first time we'd actually met. Incidentally, Sue had tea at the Jane Austen Centre afterwards - lovely treat. I've been there myself and highly recommend the cheese toasted sandwich!
I always enjoy Sue's articles and she has also written some fabulous non-fiction books. Her latest, Regency Cheshire is about that county, but filled with so much more, lots of fascinating stories about the era in general.
It was an age of unique style and elegance; the era of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Regency Cheshire explores the scandals, sports and pastimes of the great county families such as the Grosvenors of Eaton Hall. Their glittering lifestyle is contrasted with conditions for humble farmers and factory workers. The gentry and mill owners created elegant new villas and beautiful gardens while workers huddled together in slums with inadequate sanitation. The Prince Regent and his cronies danced and feasted while cotton and silk workers starved. Cheshire's rural tranquility was under siege; smoke belched out over the textile and salt towns. Stage coaches rattled through the streets; packet boats and barges sailed down the canals. The author traces the changes in the county's transport system and the effect on its chief industries: silk, cotton, salt and cheese. Reform and revolution threatened the old social order. Blood was spilt on city streets during election fever and in the struggle for democracy. Napoleon's forces were poised to invade - but Cheshire troops battled their own countrymen instead of marauding Frenchmen. Balls and bear-baiting; highwaymen and hangings; riots and reform: Regency Cheshire tells the story of county life during the age of Beau Brummell, Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

Read more about Sue and her books on her blog

Monday, March 22, 2010

Researching Willoughby's Return: Exeter and the New London Inn

Anyone who stops by to read my blog will know how much I enjoy researching for the books that I write. Willoughby's Return is set in Devon, Dorset and London so I spent a lot of time reading about these places as they were in the 1800's.
Marianne is married to Colonel Brandon and they are settled with one child at Delaford in Dorset with her sister Elinor and husband Edward Ferrars living nearby at the parsonage with their children. When Marianne receives news that her husband's nephew is coming home from university, she gets very excited on Margaret's behalf. Marianne thinks a ball will be the very thing to introduce Henry Lawrence to the neighbourhood (and her sister) and so promises to take Margaret shopping to Exeter, the nearest large town to Barton in Devon where Margaret lives in a cottage with her mother on the estate of Barton Park which belongs to Mrs Dashwood's cousin, Sir John Middleton.
I found the wonderful painting above on a super site about Exeter which you can access by clicking on the link Exeter City Council Time Trail. You can travel through a model of the town made in 1820 amongst other things. The painting of Exeter High Street inspired the opening of one of the early chapters in Willoughby's Return. I hope you enjoy the extract that follows.

They were set down by the square of the New London Inn, so that they could work their way down the High Street and not miss a single shop or market stall. Exeter was teeming with people and carriages, all seemingly unaware of the other as they set about their determined business. There were so many stalls with traders thrusting their wares under the girls’ noses as they attempted to pass, that there was scarcely any room to manoeuvre. Trays of sticky buns, held head high, wafted tempting smells of freshly baked treats. Panniers of ruby apples and yellow pears, swaying from the hips of ruddy-cheeked girls, scented the air with the perfume of a September orchard, whilst tiers of orange pumpkins arranged along the wayside impeded their every step. Waggons and carts rumbled down the street, piled high with sacks, boxes, barrels and packages. A flock of sheep were being shepherded by two small boys wielding sticks, along with a barking dog who leaped and snapped if any chanced to stray too far. Geese and ducks waddled in formation down the central thoroughfare as though they owned the road, as a young girl with a basket of eggs called out to passersby to try her goods. Marianne and Margaret wove their way through the teeming tapestry of market town life, calling to one another to look in a particular shop window or laugh at some amusing sight. They soon found themselves on the corner of Queen Street, close by their favourite linen drapers. On entering the shop, they found it to be as busy inside as out. Every mother and daughter in Exeter, it appeared, had chosen to arrive at the same time, all jostling for a chance to view the latest muslin, lutestring, and satin.

“Margaret, what do you think of that one?” Marianne asked, pointing to a fine white mull draped in the window, embroidered with gold thread, which glimmered in the sunlight.
“It is very beautiful,” sighed Margaret, “but I fear it will cost the earth!”
“I have not brought you here to discuss finances,” Marianne scolded, “I have promised you a ball gown of the highest quality and that is what you shall have!”
“But there is a very good white satin laid out on the counter which would make a very pretty gown. And though I must admit the mull is quite the most divine gauze I have ever seen, I could do very well with the other.”
Margaret could see the shopkeeper deep in conversation with a very smartly dressed young woman who was ordering yards of the glossy fabric which waved like the sea over the counter, rippling over the edge onto the floor. The elegant plumes on her grey hat were nodding as she talked. There was quite a queue forming, the mother before them muttering under her breath at the time it would take to get to the front, as her daughter complained that there would be no satin left if the lady preceding them was any indication to go on. Another assistant appeared to alleviate the restless crowd and at last they moved forward.
“Let me indulge you this once, Margaret,” Marianne insisted. “Henry Lawrence will be used to seeing women of his acquaintance attired in the very finest clothes; I cannot have you look anything but your very best.”
“Very well,” laughed Margaret, “so long as you promise not to speak of that man again. I am well aware you have married me off to him and I am certain that he and I will never suit.”
“How can you say such a thing? I have heard he is a very handsome man, cultured and charming. Every report declares him to be just the sort of gentleman you like.”
“There has never been a man yet who has had the power to engage my heart.” Margaret picked up a pair of long kid evening gloves from the display by the window. She turned them over but was not really examining them at all. She was lost in thought, wondering if she should confess her folly to her sister. Marianne was engrossed on the other side, in admiration of a bolt of crimson velvet, but declared it as being too dark for such young skin.
“Actually, that is not entirely true,” Margaret persisted, although not understanding quite why she was willing to confess her old, childish fantasies.
Marianne turned, all astonishment. “Tell me, Margaret, who is this paragon, this nonesuch, this nonpareil?”
“Do you promise not to reprimand me if I dare tell?” Margaret looked into her sister’s eyes, and then sighed. “Oh, it is so silly, I wish I had not said a word. It was just a youthful infatuation. What will you think of me? You will be very cross with me.”

I mentioned in the extract that Marianne and Margaret were set down by the new London Inn. I chose this location because Jane Austen had mentioned it in Sense and Sensibility. It's the wonderful part of the book where we are fed certain intelligence which we later find out is not quite all it appears to be! Here is the extract where one of the servants, Thomas, reports who has seen outside the New London Inn.

"I suppose you know ma'am, that Mr. Ferrars is married."

Marianne gave a violent start, fixed her eyes upon Elinor, saw her turning pale, and fell back in her chair in hysterics. Mrs. Dashwood, whose eyes, as she answered the servant's inquiry, had intuitively taken the same direction, was shocked to perceive by Elinor's countenance how much she really suffered, and in a moment afterwards, alike distressed by Marianne's situation, knew not on which child to bestow her principal attention.

The servant, who saw only that Miss Marianne was taken ill, had sense enough to call one of the maids, who, with Mrs. Dashwood's assistance, supported her into the other room. By that time, Marianne was rather better, and her mother leaving her to the care of Margaret and the maid, returned to Elinor, who though still much disordered, had so far recovered the use of her reason and voice as to be just beginning an inquiry of Thomas as to the source of his intelligence. Mrs. Dashwood immediately took all that trouble on herself: and Elinor had the benefit of the information without the exertion of seeking it.

"Who told you that Mr. Ferrars was married, Thomas?"

"I see Mr. Ferrars myself, ma'am, this morning in Exeter, and his lady too, Miss Steele as was. They was stopping in a chaise at the door of the New London Inn, as I went there with a message from Sally at the Park to her brother, who is one of the postboys. I happened to look up as I went by the chaise, and so I see directly it was the youngest Miss Steele; so I took off my hat, and she knew me and called to me, and inquired after you, ma'am, and the young ladies, especially Miss Marianne, and bid me I should give her compliments and Mr. Ferrars's, their best compliments and service, and how sorry they was they had not time to come on and see you - but they was in a great hurry to go forwards, for they was going further down for a little while - but howsever, when they come back, they'd make sure to come and see you."

There is a very interesting history of the New London Inn which can be found on this fascinating site Exeter Memories. Sadly, it was demolished in 1936 to make way for the cinema. The postcard below shows the inn as the hotel it later became in the 1920's. The print above is from the 1800's.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Favourite Walk in Bath, photos from my album.

One of my favourite walks in Bath starts at Jane Austen's house at no. 4 Sydney Place and takes me through the gardens opposite where we know our favourite novelist walked. Although the gardens do not look the same as they did in Jane's day, they are still a lovely place for a stroll or provide the starting point for something a little more energetic. There is a gate almost hidden amongst the greenery which leads onto the Kennet and Avon canal path and if you turn left after passing through it you can follow the canal for a good twenty minute walk to the village of Bathampton and beyond if you've the stamina!

The photos below are a selection of ones taken over time, but I hope they give you an idea of what you might see in Sydney Gardens and on the canal path.

In 1819 Pierce Egan wrote about the gardens and canal in his book of Walks through Bath -The Kennet and Avon Canal runs through the gardens, with two elegant cast-iron bridges thrown over it, after the manner of the Chinese; and the romantic and picturesque scenery, by which they are surrounded, is fascinating beyond measure. Great opposition, it seems, was originally made to the canal running through these gardens by the proprietor; but it gives such a variety to the walks, that its introduction is now viewed as a great addition. It would be a matter of some difficulty to point out a spot of ground so tastefully laid out as SYDNEY-GARDENS.

When you finally reach Bathampton there is a very nice pub - The George Inn, where you can stop and take some refreshment before turning round to go home again.

If you'd like to read more about the gardens in Jane Austen's time Julie from Austen Only has written some excellent posts on their history.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Two Reviews for Willoughby's Return

I want to thank Alexa Adams and Meredith Esparza for so kindly taking the time to read and review Willoughby's Return, which they did a while ago. I haven't put these reviews on the blog in full before so apologies, ladies, for not thanking you publicly for your interest. It goes without saying that I am absolutely thrilled at their responses to my book - I can't tell you how much it means when someone enjoys my writing!

Click on the link to find Alexa Adams Blogspot

Finally we have a Sense & Sensibility sequel I can love! Jane Odiwe, as she did in Lydia Bennet's Story, has written a tale that clearly demonstrates her deep love of and respect for Austen and her characters. As I read Willoughby's Return: A Tale of Almost Irresistible Temptation, I never once had to stop and moan about a character acting in a manner incongruous to his or her essence (one of my greatest pet peeves). I must admit I found the subtitle a bit misleading and was very grateful that this story did not find Marianne Brandon doing anything untenable: her love of Colonel Brandon is pervasive throughout. Instead of confirming his roguishness, this story gives Willoughby the opportunity to complete the redemption Austen began.

More than Willoughby, this story is about the misunderstandings that result from the difficulties of communication in a highly regulated society - a rather constant theme throughout Austen. Even after marriage, Marianne and Colonel Brandon find themselves restrained from openly sharing their insecurities and fears. The same issue plagues Margaret Dashwood, now a grown lady of 18, as she negotiates her budding romance with a nephew of Colonel Brandon, Henry Lawrence.

The structure of the story largely mimics that of Sense & Sensibility, beginning in the country and moving to London for the season, the removal from which is marked by an illness. We again meet Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, Lucy & Robert Ferrers, and Anne Steele in all their glory. Surprisingly absent are John and Fanny Dashwood, the latter being replaced (in spirit) by Lady Lawrence. Eliza Williams and her daughter are brought to life in a very sympathetic manner and Marianne's response to them is thoroughly realistic. I could have wished that Elinor and, particularly, Edward Ferrars played a larger role in the story but, as Ms. Odiwe has firmly establishes them as perfectly happy, they do not have much momentum to offer the plot. My only real complaint is that the book seemed to end too quickly. I'll just leave it with the statement that Margaret Dashwood is a far more forgiving lady than I could ever be.

This is definitely a book I will read again, probably directly on the tail of my next reading of Sense & Sensibility. I have long been a big fan of Lydia Bennet's Story and I must admit I like this book even better (the course of events in it are a bit more historically believable). Willoughby's Return is an excellent example of why Austen fan fiction should be left in the hands of those who ardently love and faithfully study Jane's work. It's one of the most satisfying sequels I have encountered.

Here is Meredith Esparza's review. Click on the link to find her blog Austenesque Reviews.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“Sense and Sensibility” is such a lovely, honest, and entertaining novel; it such a shame that not many authors have attempted to compose a sequel for it. I have greatly enjoyed “Colonel Brandon's Diary” by Amanda Grange (S&S told from Colonel Brandon's point-of-view) and “Reason and Romance” by Debra White Smith (a modern adaption with Christian undertones); but neither of those are sequels or include a continuation story for Margaret. But now, having read “Willoughby's Return,” I feel I have found the sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” I have always wanted! I am so very delighted that Jane Odiwe has supplied us ravenous Austenites with this compelling and expressive sequel to cherish and enjoy!

Whatever became of Margaret Dashwood? As Elinor and Marianne's younger sister, Margaret has witnessed their heartbreaks and heartaches first hand. Has their experiences made her wiser, more cautious, or perhaps, more indifferent to love? Does she take after rational and sensible Elinor or does she favor Marianne's romantic tendencies and impetuous nature?

In this novel, Margaret Dashwood, who is at the marriageable age of 18, seems to be the victim of Marianne's matchmaking schemes. So far she has yet to meet a man that can live up to her expectation or measure up to her childhood love (can you guess who that is?). However, when Margaret meets Colonel Brandon's nephew, the handsome, romantic, and charming Henry Lawrence, she feels she may have finally met her ideal man...

Marianne and Colonel Brandon, the other couple focused upon in this story, have been married for three years and have a two-year old boy named James. Like all married couples, they are experiencing some difficulties and trials in their marriage. Marianne is exhibiting some jealousy, insecurity, and mistrust in Colonel Brandon's love for her. Colonel Brandon, trying to be a father figure in two separate households (he looks after his ward, Eliza Williams and her child, Lizzy), finds that he has unintentionally been neglecting Marianne and spending too much time away from her. Furthermore, the ghost of Willoughby haunts their marriage, both Marianne and Colonel Brandon never mention his name or their past association with him. Because of their silence on the subject, when Willoughby re-enters Marianne's life, she chooses not to share with her husband their encounters and conversations. Secrets are never good for a marriage...

Jane Odiwe has done a magnificent job of continuing the story of “Sense and Sensibility,” I greatly enjoyed spending more time with these characters and was pleased to see them so accurately portrayed. I was delighted that other minor character such as the Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons and Mrs. Lucy Ferrars were included in this novel and that they appeared the same as ever. I would have loved for Elinor and Edward to have more page time, but I understand that a story with two heroines is quite enough and to add a third heroine may have resulted in diminishing the stories of the other two.

“Willoughby's Return” was appropriately romantic, emotional, and passionate. I commend Jane Odiwe for capturing the essence and excellence of “Sense and Sensibility” and continuing the story in a knowledgeable and sympathetic manner. It is obvious that Ms. Odiwe loves and cares greatly for her characters (even the difficult ones), and I feel that Jane Austen loved her characters the same way. I greatly enjoyed this sequel for “Sense and Sensibility” and look forward to more works from Jane Odiwe.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mystery Solved! Why Jane Austen favoured Captain Wentworth's name - amongst others.

This is in response to a post I blogged about earlier - I was doing some research on names and discovered the village of Wentworth in South Yorkshire where the aristocratic families of Wentworth, Watson, Woodhouse and Fitzwilliam ruled over the area. As these names are all connected with characters in Jane Austen's novels, I thought there must be some significant connection. I wanted to know why she had chosen so many of these names for characters in her novels. A bit more searching on the website Wentworth reveals the fact that a certain Eleanor Wentworth married Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey - and if you know anything about Jane Austen, you are aware that Jane's mother was related to this family.

On Stoneleigh Abbey's website there's a fascinating page on Jane Austen's connection with her Leigh ancestors and a portrait of the woman, Elizabeth Lord, who may have inspired the character of Anne Elliot. I am absolutely intrigued by this story - I feel a trip to Stoneleigh coming on!

I don't think it's necessary for me to repeat everything on these websites, but do take a look - I'm sure others must have discovered this before me, but I've found it all so interesting.
One further point - and this is all a little fanciful, but I can't help wondering if it's mere coincidence that the first Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, not only shared the same christian name as someone who had been important to Jane Austen, but he also was a lawyer, studied at the Inns of Court, and became Lord Deputy of Ireland. Why did Jane choose Wentworth as the name of the hero in her last and most romantic tale? Can you guess who sprang into my mind when I was reading about him? It's probably nothing, I'd love to know what you think about all of this and the above!

Illustration: The cover of the dvd Persuasion starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root - absolutely gorgeous, and one of my favourite adaptations.

Fitzwilliam, Wentworth, Watson and Woodhouse - Jane's characters have more in common than you might think!

I've been very busy writing a new book which always involves a certain amount of research. I was looking for a surname for a character of my own; it had to be linked to the name Wentworth in some way, so I decided to put in a search in google. I hit upon a site about Wentworth village in south Yorkshire Wentworth and have found it totally fascinating, as I am sure you will too.
I discovered that the family names of Fitzwilliam, (as in Darcy) Watson, Woodhouse and Wentworth are all linked - they are all related in some way in a family tree that goes back to the 1200's. There was even an Emma Woodhouse born in 1220.

Do have a look at it - I can't help thinking that Jane Austen was inspired by this family for the names she uses in Pride and Prejudice, Emma, The Watsons, and of course, Persuasion.
I am having a lot of fun with my latest book - there's still a way to go, but at least I've finally got a name for my hero. I wonder if you can guess which surname I chose.
This novel is not a sequel, it started out as one, but I got completely side-tracked and excited by a whole other idea. I might return to the sequel sometime, but this one has completely taken me over.

Now the question that is puzzling me is why Jane chose this particular family - does anyone have any idea? There doesn't seem to be anything obvious, but maybe I've missed something. I'd love to hear your thoughts!