19.9.14

Scotland

David and I have just enjoyed a wonderful few days break in Kirkcudbright. We used to visit every year when the children were small, in our caravan, so it was great to visit old haunts. It was part of a research trip for my next book but a lovely holiday too.

Broughton House on High Street was the home of the artist E A Hornel, which still has his studio, exactly as it was in his time, and a beautiful Japanese style garden.

Broughton House


The harbour on the River Dee was lovely too, at one time a thriving port with regular imports of coal and lime and exports of grain, oatmeal, potatoes, wool and general farm produce. Now with only a few fishing boats in, but fishing is popular in this region.







 
There's also a marina for leisure boats.
And here's MacLellan's castle, little more than a ruin but with a fascinating history, and so long as you have a good imagination you can see it was once a most imposing town house for the laird. Building started in 1449 and Sir Thomas moved in five years later where he entertained James VI. It was meant to show off his wealth, which unfortunately didn't last.

MacLellan's Castle



27.8.14

Fair Girls and Grey Horses - review

Fair Girls and Grey Horses, the biography of the Pullein Thompson’s country childhood is a beautifully told nostalgic trip through the twenties and thirties right through to the end of the war. Related by Josephine, Christine and Diana in turn, it describes a delightfully eccentric family. The sisters spent their time raising bantams and geese, camping out in the garden on summer nights, reciting poetry to each other, and avoiding a formal education as much as possible.

They lived at The Grove in the village of Peppard in South Oxfordshire with their brother Denis, Mamma, and their father, Harold James Pullein-Thomson, whom they called ‘Cappy’ as not only had he been a Captain in the Great War, he’d suffered badly as a result so tended to be rather bad tempered. As a consequence the girls were closer to their mother. Joanna Cannan became their mentor and inspiration as she was delightfully bohemian and tolerant, a woman who defied convention, and a busy author who spent her mornings typing out her novels. When asked if the twins were quite normal, she retorted: ‘Good God! I hope not.’

The main preoccupation for the three sisters was of course caring for ponies, starting with sharing one between them, to owning over forty and running their own riding school. The individual characteristics of these ponies is beautifully illustrated, providing the sisters with ample material for their future careers. They would sit around the kitchen table and write their own collective stories for their own magazine before moving on to publish their first book Picotee, followed by Josephine writing Six Ponies on her own.

Diana taught one pony to undo the bolt on the stable door, and the other ponies watched carefully, learning how to do it too so that they all started to escape and new locks had to be fitted. Others would not care to be told what to do and would try to avoid jumping, or tip the young rider off their back. I can certainly remember having similar problems with the ponies we had. The first was on loan from a riding stable for the winter, to test out whether my daughters could actually cope with owning one. Bonny fed so well on the grass in our paddock that she took off one night and a local farmer woke us up so that we could give chase and bring her home. But we did buy the girls a pony, and here she is, called Lady. She was lovely, but did not care for the blacksmith as she hated having new shoes put on.


The Pullein-Thompson sisters went on to publish 200 books between them, adored by their fans, including my own daughters who read their way through the entire collection when I was running a book shop. These delightful pony stories aimed to show girls that they could succeed with their dream, even if they were not intellectual or clever, so long as they were passionate about what they did.

Fair Girls and Grey Horses, by Christine, Diana and Josephine Pullein-Thompson. 
Published by Allison & Busby.

21.8.14

Southport Flower Show



 
Enjoyed a lovely visit to the 2014 Southport Flower Show at the end of last week with lovely weather, as always. There were some gorgeous gardens and flower displays. As you can see here.



We also enjoyed the dog display team. What clever, lively dogs they were, and they obviously thoroughly enjoyed themselves racing, jumping through hurdles and hoops, and pulling the fire engine. Great fun.

26.7.14

Biarritz

The beautiful Basque area was conquered in the sixth century by the Romans, who named the region as Aquitania, or Aquitaine, because of the tradition for raising horses. The name coming from the Latin word “equites” meaning horses.


Biarritz is one of Europe’s most beautiful and stylish cities, has been a popular all year round holiday resort across the ages, very much a favourite destination of the wealthy in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.




Lydia, in My Lady Deceiver, considered it an essential part of the season that she spend winter away from the cold of England, relaxing in Biarritz, a beautiful and stylish coastal town close to the Spanish border. It was very popular with the British upper classes for its mild climate, stunning beaches, and sense of elegance and style. She always insisted on staying at the Hôtel du Palais, formerly the summer mansion of Napoleon III, which seemed reason enough for choosing it, so far as Lydia was concerned.


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The hotel overlooked the main beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, and was decidedly chic and luxurious, a veritable honeypot for the very best people. Which meant, of course, that it was also the perfect place for society gossip. Lydia very much liked to keep abreast of who among her friends was having an affair, or considering remarriage. She might even keep her eye out for a likely new husband on her own account.

The ladies would walk along the Quai de La Grande Plage as far as the Casino Municipal, a large white building with awnings over a parade of shops to protect them from the sun as they browsed in the windows. Wooden walkways led down to the beach where rows of tents were set out where guests could change into their bathing costumes.

The Hotel du Palais overlooks Biarritz’ main beaches and the Atlantic beyond. Its luxury and ageless charm coupled with the areas’ outstanding sports facilities make the Palais an international Mecca for vacationers and sports enthusiasts alike. The casino was a large white building set on the beach, with awnings over a parade of shops to protect the ladies from the sun.

Formerly the summer mansion of Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie de Montijo, The “Villa Eugénie”, was built in just ten months and completed in 1855. During the next sixteen years, the imperial couple spent almost every summer in Biarritz, accompanied by other European royalties. In 1880, Banque Parisienne bought the Villa and converted it into a casino, opened as a hotel in 1893. It became one of the prestigious addresses of France. Queen Victoria, Edward VII, the Duke of Connaught, and many other members of royalty stayed there. But on February 1st, 1903 the hotel caught fire, after which it was rebuilt with an additional wing and altered with several storeys. The rebuilding, completed in 1905, was designed by the famous Belle Epoque architect, Edouard-Jean Niermans, and still reflects his style to this day.

Once a drowsy fishing village of Biarritz soon became a resort town for the wealthy and fashion conscious.

19.7.14

Sanctuary from the Trenches of WWI

Enjoyed a fascinating day at Dunham Massey in Cheshire which was transformed into Stamford Military Hospital during Word War I. By the time it was closed in Febuary 1919, 282 soldiers had been treated there. Lady Stamford ran the hospital from her parlour and the nurse in charge was Sister Catherine Bennett.



For this centenary year the hospital ward has been recreated based on original records from Dunham Massey's archives. You can see the original bed from which the others have been copied, read the medical notes and letters from the soldiers, and learn all about their personal stories. Yes, those are real people in the beds, a couple of actors playing the parts as ghosts from the past.





You can also see the room where they played chess as these two young men did while we were there, and also where the nurses escaped for a little break. You can even see a set up of the operating theatre.



 






The house itself is beautiful, as are the grounds.

Most definitely worth a visit.








13.7.14

Ironbridge Museum

I enjoyed a wonderful day at the Victorian Town, Blists Hill, Ironbridge on Friday. Fascinating place to visit. I do wish I'd had more time to explore but it was lovely to meet with readers and have time to chat. Here I am dressed as a parlourmaid. (I know my place)


 I shared a table with Jean Fullerton, dressed as a nurse with her World War II sagas.


Some of the other authors present whose novels include alternative history, regency romances and historical sagas:

Jenny Barden

Juliette Greenwood as a suffragette

Annie Burrow as a Regency lady


Kate Johnson

Alison Morton


 Here's the group of Romantic Novelists attending the fair:



And a passing steam engine.



13.5.14

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in Regency England.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane acquired its name as when first built in 1662, it was looked upon as being part of the Royal Household. The troupe wore royal livery in scarlet and gold, still worn by royal footmen to this day. It was quite small, originally, seating no more than 700 people and in 1672 was destroyed by the first of several fires.


David Garrick (1717-1779), actor, manager and playwright. He preferred a more natural form of speaking rather than declaiming, as had been the fashion for some time. His own skills as an actor greatly influenced the art of acting, as he brought in a more natural approach, perhaps what we would call method acting, and generally raising standards, not least by insisting on regular and intense rehearsals.

The young bucks in the pit carried whistles to blow and upset any actor they did not care for. Neither did they hesitate to hiss and jeer and pelt actors with food, whether a bread roll, orange or a chewed wad of tobacco. They even threw lighted candles. This became such a threat that Garrick finally banished the audience from the stage, which also led to an improvement in stage furniture and sets. He also greatly improved the lightning which had chiefly depended upon chandeliers and candle-footlights.

The celebrated playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan followed Garrick as proprietor in 1777, and proceeded to stage many of his own plays, his most famous being The School for Scandal, as well as popular ones of the day. Sheridan was tall and thin with a rigid posture, a charming man, if something of a contradiction, of Irish stock, raised mainly by servants after his parents returned to England. He was generally attired in a brightly coloured costume of blue coat and red waistcoat. But he also had a passion for politics and spent less and less time involved with the theatre.

Theatre was extremely popular with the beau monde, who loved nothing more than to be seen, as much as they liked to see the play. The theatre was more often than not packed to the doors, so crowded that some people would be squashed almost to suffocation in the lower passages that led to the pit. Hats would be lost, shoes drop off as toes were trodden on, and several ladies suffered from torn gowns. Drury Lane was the place where the fashionable liked to come to see the great Mrs Siddons. They were content to sit and enjoy the tragedy, but Dora Jordan was famous for comedy, so whether the audience could be persuaded to remain in their seats long enough to view the farce after it, was the challenge she faced.

By 1791 the building had fallen into such a bad state of decay that rather than go through a complex refurbishment, it was decided to build another theatre in its place. Tragically, fifteen years later the theatre burned down for the second time! But it was again rebuilt, this time designed by Benjamin Wyatt on the elegant neo-classical model of the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, it reopened in 1812.

Sadly, Dora was running out of time by then as she died in France on 13 July 1816, possibly of liver disease. You can find out more about eighteenth century theatre in my two recent novels about royal mistresses who were also actresses. Dorothea Jordan, known as Dora, the most famous comedic actress of her day, and Mary Robinson who became more famous for her poetry and writing in the end, which was where her real passion lay.

I loved writing these stories albeit it was sometimes hard to stick so closely to the truth when they both suffered such appalling treatment at the hands of others. I wanted them to fight back, to enjoy a happy-ever-after ending. But changing their character or events would not have been right. In an biographical historical it was my job to show them as they really were.