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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Publishing again - it's been a long time.

Well, I've finally submitted the latest Felicia and Robin book for publishing, and also a new Regency, hopefully the first of a series [called the Brandon Scandals series], 'A Hasty Proposal' which had an earlier working title of 'The Unexpected Bride', a name already in use.... There's an extracts from it Here and also see below for the opening. [Keep scrolling down after going to the link, there's an article about the illuminations first and an extract showing how I used them in my book following]

Felicia and Robin have their first 'braided novel' in which short stories follow on one from another.  It's a segue between 'Hatreds Heretics and Histories' and 'The Colour of Murder' which will follow.  Felicia and Robin become involved in the dastardly doings of simple country folk in North Norfolk [finishing with travelling through Ipswich and then Winchester on their way to Henry VIII's court.]

So here's the opening of the first story of Midsummer Mysteries:

1 Murder at the Bounds

        It was no very pleasant thing to happen upon a dead body when beating the bounds.
        That the body was that of an old man with his hose about his ankles and a look of pure shock upon his face did not tend to soften the experience in any way.

        My grandfather’s household was beating the bounds under the nominal guidance of his chaplain, Toby Marjoram, whom I could not call Father Toby without wanting to giggle at the absurdity of it.  His quite ridiculously blonde hair with its concomitantly invisible eyebrows and lashes gave him the permanent air of a surprised choirboy.  His habit of blushing whenever he came within six feet of a female over the age of about ten years did not add to his dignity.  I had been forced to forbid Pernel from playing with him, for she developed a most naughty fascination with trying to make him blush, though she was younger than the age generally that females drove him to roseate incoherence.
        All the children had been keen to go along to beat the bounds, largely because Adam had a wager with Pernel and Emma that Bennett the stable boy would end up being beaten over at least one stone as the naughtiest boy on the whole estate.  Bennett was some twelve or thirteen summers with a reputation for madcap scrapes that made our three look calm; and for fighting.  He was not, to his chagrin, old enough to join the rowdy quaffing of the older hands, whose sole interest in beating the bounds  - as soon as the prayers at each stone was done – was to sink a tankard of ale at one draught.
        I broke my Robin of excessive drinking – save when he was low over something – when I was just a little girl, still his apprentice.
        The object of this drinking game was to complete the bounds in a state that might loosely be accorded the description ‘conscious’;  few enough remembered their own names at the end, let alone where they might be or where the boundary was.

        The body, however, did have something of a sobering effect on our tipsy bounds beaters; and Kit Scullion dropped his handbell with a dull clatter.
        “Oh d-dear,” said Master Marjoram.
        He was occasionally given to hopelessly inadequate remarks.
        I think that was his most inadequate to date.
        Grandfather pushed his way forward.
        He did not have to push very hard.  Drunk they might be, ignore the baron they would not.
        “’Tis John Weaver,” he said. “He has the linen loom out at the cottage over the hill.”
        “Ha!  Yew reckon, Sir Godfrey, that him be so tired out from serving his young wife hid keeled over just from gittin’ out hisn pizzle tu ‘grow a rose’?” jested one wag.
        I have no idea why the euphemism ‘grow a rose’ should be so common; but that it is so is shown by the number of towns with a ‘Rose Lane’ that have at least some time been open sewers. 
        There was ribald laughter at the wag’s jesting remark.
        “If he be wed, somebody should tell his wife,” I said repressively.  “Mistress Jermyn, will you go to her?  Take her to the Hall – we shall put his body in the chapel and lay it out decently.  No need for her to see it thus undignified.”
        Grace Jermyn bobbed me a curtsey and set off.
        Grandfather scowled at Toby.
        “Take this rabble around,” he said.  “Rafe, Mark, stay to assist us with the body.”
        It had rained the night before; the ground was soft.
        There were two puzzling depressions before the stone – as though someone had kneeled there.  They did not seem right,
        “Could he have fallen to his knees there and then….no, he is sprawled as though falling from a kneeling position here” I said “And here is the mark where his knees hit, one slightly in front of the other – and here his hands; and they skidded, see the mark in the mud and grass.  I wager he was dead afore he hit the ground.”
        “I concur,” said Robin. “Which is why I am bothered that the top of his hose here have gathered mud and leaf mould and such as though someone had tried to pull up his stocks after he was on the ground.”
        We exchanged looks.
        This was an anomaly.
        In our work outside of our profession as artists, as agents for Tom Wolsey, we had become even more adept at noting anomalies than we already were as trained observers.
        There was a golden thread about three feet up, caught in a thorn bush.  It looked and felt like hair.
        I put it in my belt pouch.
        “What a horrid thing on such a pretty day!”  I said, crossly.
        “Never mind, my dearest dear,” said Robin cheerfully. “We did not know him.”
        The early summer’s sunshine gleamed in his golden hair and his eyes reflected the sky’s blue; and his smile was soft.
        Corpses despite he looked quite contented.  
        He had not long completed successful repairs to the damage effected by a most spiteful girl to the best painting he has ever done.  It shows me as the Queen of Sheba ‘black but comely’ as the Song of Songs says, and more beautiful than I had ever realised I could be, from the love for him that shone in my painted eyes. And he had substantially finished the painting of Pernel and Emma in a bluebell wood that would take a proud place in our own house, wherever we ended up living.
        How I looked forward to becoming his wife!

        Rafe and Mark were shifting the body to move it when Robin bent over and peered.
        “Hello,” he said in a strange voice.
        I looked where he pointed.
        There appeared to be a trickle still red and sticky blood from the man’s rear.
        “Emerods?” I suggested.
        It is a painful condition, I am told, and they can bleed. If one burst suddenly, painfully, it might, I suppose, lead to death from pain and shock in so old a man.
“Maybe,” said Robin.  “I think we should examine him in the chapel.  When you have him there, one of you men ride to inform Prioress Elizabeth at St Mary’s.
Grandfather raised an eyebrow.
“Should not it be the priest of Holy Trinity that be informed?”  he asked.
He was a great stickler for form.
“Lady Elizabeth has worked with us before,” I said.  “And she has more balls than most priests I know, save Tom Wolsey.  And mayhap Father Eusebius,” I added, having reluctantly rather liked the acid representative of the Bishop of Norwich.
Robin chuckled.
“I’m not sure, dear shrewling, if the Lady Elizabeth would appreciate that as a compliment.”
“Knowing Lady Elizabeth, she’d take it in the spirit in which it was meant,” I said. “She was very calm when we examined the deceased Dean, and very sensible.  Pity those drunken oafs have walked all across here to have a good peer.  We might have got more idea of what happened here by the marks on the ground.”

We returned to the chapel to do a thorough examination of the body.

Meanwhile meet Edward Brandon, who would be most put out to be called scandalous: 

Chapter 1

Edward Brandon shut the door with unnecessary vigour, stopping short of actually slamming it. 
“She need not think that she can trifle with my affections like that!” he snarled.  “I – by Jove, I’ll marry the first woman who shows me a kindness without expectation of a reward!”
His groom wisely said nothing as Edward swung himself up into his phaeton and drove away, his bad mood strictly controlled so as not to upset the horses, but his face like thunder.
Miss Amelia Hazelgrove had just made it clear to her erstwhile suitor that she had no interest in a mere ‘Mr’ who no longer might be considered to have the expectation of inheriting a tidy little barony.  He was probably no longer his uncle’s heir, since his new aunt-by-marriage was rumoured to be in an interesting condition, his uncle having remarried relatively recently.
Edward, interrupted in the middle of a proposal to Miss Hazelgrove by her refusal, had stared, and upon being informed as to that damsel’s reasons had demanded to know whether he meant anything to her but a means of social elevation.  The Beauty had tossed her charmingly arranged head of black curls, pouted her exquisite and sultry lips, and informed him that the whole point of marriage was for the participants to be of use to each other.  Heartbreak and anger warred in Edward’s breast; anger won.

Edward found himself driving out towards Hampstead, and realised that he was going to visit his aunt, the Honourable Letitia Grey.  Aunt Letty was always soothing. Edward laughed cynically.  He was about to renege on the vow he had made, as he could scarcely marry his aunt.  However, the vow had been made, and relatives did not, of course count.  He adjusted his muffler against the chill of the March winds, now he had cooled down sufficiently from his anger to notice the surroundings.  Edward gave the horses their head as he came out of London and into the country, after passing the toll-house at The Spaniard Inn.  It was not far to his aunt’s house from here, but he wanted the speed to wash through him, wash away some of the numb anger and agony.  He was aware of his groom hanging on grimly and lifted a hand half in apology to him.  Spencer was a good man and loyal, and was doubtless already working out that his master had been turned down, as Edward was not generally given to black moods or excessive speed, unless engaged in a race.  And Edward preferred those races organised somewhere like a park, with circuits, rather than upon the public highway where one might discommode ordinary travellers or working carters.
He started to slow, preparing to turn off the highway onto the road to his aunt’s house, just before Finchley. He slowed his team further with consummate skill just before he turned, as the herd of pigs swept round the bend. The youth in charge of them touched his forelock and as Edward indicated with his whip that he wished to turn off, skilfully shooed his herd to the other side of the road to accommodate Edward’s passage. The forelock was fully pulled and a grin adorned the bucolic youth’s face as Edward tossed a coin to him, from a selection he kept on the dash.  Edward liked to be able to be ready to throw the correct change to tollgate keepers, and to have vails ready in case of need, without fumbling in his pocket, and had had a small box attached to the dash, to stop loose coins being readily thrown off by the motion of the carriage.  He drove at a relatively sedate pace up to his aunt’s pleasant Queen Anne house, larger than a cottage, but more modest than might be suggested by his aunt’s comfortable income from her late husband’s skilful investments.

Mrs.  Grey’s butler admitted him, taking his coat and murmuring that Mrs.  Grey was abroad presently, but that there was a fire in the parlour.  Edward was about to go through when he heard an exclamation, and noticed that his aunt’s quiet young companion had come into the panelled hall, having been arranging flowers in the scullery.  She put down the vase filled with ivy and a few windblown narcissi, height given by the white flowers of dogwood, and a few sprays of the yellow dogwood too.
“Why, Mr. Brandon, you look most unwell!” she said.  “I will fetch you a nice posset right away; do please go and get warm by the fire, Aunt Letty is out presently, but will return soon.”
Edward opened his mouth to say that he would prefer a whisky, but found himself bundled into a chair, and presently provided with a beverage which appeared to be generously endowed with alcohol.  He sipped the sweet mixture appreciatively.
“Thank you, Miss, er, Renfield, I am not ill,” he said.  “Though by Jove!  It would be worth being ill for your posset.”
“Gentlemen need building up,” said Miss Renfield, demurely.  “Excuse me, but you are, or were, quite white, and looked most unlike yourself.”
“I had a shock,” said Edward; and found himself telling her all about it.  Elizabeth Renfield was a good listener; no wonder Aunt Letty found her soothing to have around, thought Edward.  As he recalled she was a relative in some degree – which meant she was a distant relative of his too, he supposed – to his mother’s family. Miss Renfield was looking most concerned, which was very flattering.
“Dear me!” she said.  “How very cold blooded Miss Hazelgrove sounds!  Of course, I am fortunate to have a good position with Aunt Letty, and she has told me I need not worry about the future, which is generous of her, so I am in a position to look scornfully on mercenary motives, and to marry purely for social advance seems quite as mercenary as marrying for money. And to be honest, if one is content, one is rich indeed, don’t you think?”
“Miss Renfield, I confess I’ve never met anyone content before, so I have no idea,” said Edward, “but it’s a refreshing way to consider relative wealth. I suspect that in some ways you may be better off than many a duke with a fortune.”
“I probably am,” said Beth Renfield.  “Are you feeling better for having talked about it?”
“Much,” said Edward, “and thank you.  “Though I am still resolved to marry… Miss Renfield!” he said, suddenly struck by a thought, “It occurs to me that you are the first lady I have spoken to who has done me a kindness without considering any reward!”
Beth blushed.
“I suppose I am,” she said, “but then, of course, I didn’t think of it like that, because you needed someone to take care of you.”
“Then, by Jove, you shall take care of me!” said Edward.  “Miss Renfield, will you do me the honour of being my wife?”
Beth blushed even darker red.
“Are you sure you mean that?” she said.
“I do mean it,” said Edward.  “Unless your heart is already engaged by another?”
She shook her head, looking down at her hands. She wished in passing that her hands were not so short and inelegant.
“My heart belongs to nobody else,” she said.
Beth, in fact, had been in love with Edward for as long as she could remember after entering Mrs.  Grey’s household, straight out of school.  This should have been a fairytale ending, and yet, he was only marrying her because that wretched Hazelgrove girl had turned him down, and she was available, and kind to him.  Beth wished fervently that she could be unkind to Miss Hazelgrove.
“Then say you will?” said Edward.
“I should refuse such a precipitate offer and beg you to sleep on it,” said Beth, who would not tie him to her on such terms.
“I will not change my mind,” said Edward. 
“Then providing you are still of the same mind in the morning, and delay any notice of engagement until you are quite certain, I agree,” said Beth, recklessly.  She might regret a marriage to someone she loved to distraction, and who had been no more than ordinarily polite to her up until now, and scarcely knew she existed, but she was going to have him!


  1. Congratulations! Great to hear that your next book will be out soon.

  2. Congratulations in overcoming all your trials and tribulations to get these two out

  3. Thanks Helen! and thanks for the proofing!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Very interesting contents. What do you have on the summer of 1816? I didn't realize the country was divided in half as to wet and dry.There have been debates about the weather of the summer of 1816 and the effect it had on the crops. One person mentions agricultural disasters and others report a fairly decent ahrvest. That might be because the weather affected the two sections differently.

  6. It also depends very much on the crops. Those people cropping Swedish turnips/Swedes/rutabagas [all names were used interchangeably at the time] seem to have had decent harvests, but the wheat and barley tended to turn up blight. Oats survived better. And yes, it would depend on the zoning to some extent.
    Of course the East/West and North/South divides are pretty approximate, and if you have certain weather systems set in, the generalities become all so much mumbo jumbo until said weather systems clear. The joys of an Island existence! Also crops with a short growth tended to do better if planted after the last frosts - into May - and harvested before the first frost of September 2nd, followed a week later by a tremendous storm. October got treated to harsh winds, presumably a ridge of high pressure lodged over Iceland caused by the cold, a common winter phenomenon, but coming early, and treating the NE of England with snowstorms and hurricanes. The final months of the year were actually milder, and winter-harvested crops like some root crops would have been able to be lifted without too much problem. Which brings in another factor; drainage. In heavy clay soils, roots of any crops and all root crops would be affected by waterlogging. In the light ericaceous soils of East Anglia, there was more chance of a crop surviving, and possibly doing better than normal in our drought-ridden corner of England. I'll be getting to the details of 1816 in due course, most of my research is in a jumble of notes in a notebook and downloads. Unfortunately, the weather reports in Ackermann's repository only run to 1815, so 1816 is a question of pulling reports from sundry newspapers. I also suspect the agricultural writer of living in cloud cuckoo land with rose tinted spectacles, because his prognosis for crops doesn't always tally with reports of harvests beaten down by storm force winds and hail....