I began writing the Peninsular War Saga some years ago. At the time, I was attempting to find an agent or a publisher for one of my standalone historical romances, without much success. I had a lot of very positive feedback about my writing, my plots and my characterisation but everybody was saying the same thing; we’re sorry, but there is no market for traditional historical romance any more.
More than one agent urged me to try to write a contemporary romance. I made several attempts and hated all of them. Many people told me that with just a little adjustment, I could write for Mills and Boon historical. Once again, I made the attempt, and the people at Mills and Boon were lovely, gave great feedback, but were just not sure that my characterisation was quite right for them. I was getting nowhere.
To cheer myself up, I decided to scrap all my dreams of writing a marketable historical romance and just write something that I really wanted to do. There was definitely no market for a new series about the Peninsular War, since it had been done to death in the years following the runaway success of the Sharpe books and TV series. Still, it’s what I wanted to write, and since it was clear that nobody was going to read it anyway, I felt very liberated. I decided I could write it just for me, about a collection of people who didn’t always feel heroic or brave or even that patriotic. A lot of them joined because they had no option, or because they needed a job. They fought and they died and a lot of them became heroes. They also got wet, got grumpy when they were hungry, got sore feet and developed a bad head cold from time to time.
I wanted to explore areas of the war that I’d not really seen a lot about. What about the medical services? How did the commissariat work and who was responsible for ordnance and transport and prisoners of war? And what about the women and children who followed the army? What was it like in camp and on the long marches and all the boring hours between battles and skirmishes? What were relationships like between officers and men, away from the parade ground and the tidy regulations which governed army life?
Out of all these questions was born the Peninsular War Saga. Finally tired of trying to persuade an agent or a publisher to read one of the books, I decided to publish independently, without really thinking I’d sell more than a dozen copies, let alone develop an enthusiastic following. With book five doing well and book six in the early planning stages, I consider I’ve been incredibly lucky.
The Peninsular War Saga tells the story of the men and women of the fictional 110th Infantry during the wars against Napoleon; in particular, a young officer called Paul van Daan who joins the regiment in 1802 as it is about to go to India to fight under General Arthur Wellesley.
From the battle of Assaye, through Italy, Copenhagen and Portugal, we follow the early career of Lieutenant Paul van Daan, the most unusual officer ever to join the 110th as he attempts to find his place in the regiment. Along the way he makes both friends and enemies, discovers a talent for leadership and shares his life with two very different women.
An Unconventional Officer is slightly different to the other books, as it covers a longer time period, almost eight years. I wanted it to be a full introduction to Paul’s story and to get him to the point where he was well-established in Wellington’s army. While it introduces many of the main characters, the heart of this novel is the love story between Paul and Anne and its theme is Paul’s gradual development from a young officer willing to break all the rules, to a slightly more mature officer who is beginning to learn to fit in a little better.
This book is really a spin-off from the Peninsular War Saga, but it fits very securely within the series as well. It takes place halfway through the action of An Unconventional Officer, during the Copenhagen campaign, which is mentioned, but not explored in book one. I adore this book, partly because the navy theme enabled me to set part of it on the island which is my home and which I love, and partly because it is a real coming-of-age book for Major van Daan as well as a key point in his developing friendship with Sir Arthur Wellesley.
It is 1806 andCaptain Hugh Kelly RN returns to the Isle of Mann after fifteen years with a few months leave and a small fortune in prize money to find himself a sensible Manx wife. He pays court to Roseen Crellin, who is determined to resist her father’s efforts to find her a husband. Still dreaming of the young English soldier who sailed away and broke her heart, she has no intention of encouraging Captain Kelly’s courtship and certainly no intention of developing feelings for the man.
Major Paul van Daan is newly promoted and just back from Ireland, sailing with his battalion to Copenhagen under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley. Paul’s courage and talent are unquestioned but his diplomatic skills need some work and in a joint operation with the navy there are many ways for a man of Paul’s temperament to get things wrong.
As Britain hovers on the brink of war with neutral Denmark and the diplomats and politicians negotiate to keep the Danish fleet out of Bonaparte’s hands, a more personal drama plays out on the decks of the Royal Navy and in the lines of Lord Cathcart’s army which could change the lives of Hugh, Roseen and Paul forever.
This book covers an area of the war that I knew very little about. The building and manning of the lines of Torres Vedras are absolutely fascinating and worth a lot more time than I was able to give them. It is also the story of a young couple learning to be married, and sets the tone for Paul and Anne’s relationship throughout the series. If you don’t leave your hero and heroine at the church door, you have to work out what their marriage is going to be like, and I loved the challenge of that.
On the heights of Bussaco Ridge, Paul van Daan leads his battalion into action under Lord Wellington in his defeat of the French under Marshal Massena. The book explores Paul’s developing career, and the happiness of his marriage to the lovely young widow of a fellow officer. As Wellington prepares to chase Massena out of Portugal, Paul is serving under the worst general in the army and must find a way to keep his regiment safe and protect his reputation.
In addition to the battles and the personal stories of my characters, I wanted to introduce something about army politics during this book. I particularly love finding an interesting, funny or even a very sad story from history and trying to work it into the lives of my characters.
Lord Wellington has led his army to the Spanish border where the French occupy their last stronghold in Portugal at Almeida. As the two armies face each other in the village of Fuentes de Onoro, Colonel Paul van Daan is becoming accustomed to his new responsibilities in command of a brigade and managing the resentment of other officers at his promotion over older and longer serving men. His young wife is carrying their first child and showing no signs of allowing her delicate situation to get in the way of her normal activities. And if that was not enough, Paul encounters a French colonel during the days of the battle who seems to have taken their rivalry personally, with potentially lethal consequences for the 110th and the rest of the third brigade of the light division.
This was definitely the most emotional book for me to write. I wanted to highlight the plight of women in wartime, and I’m proud of this book, but it was extremely painful for me.
In the freezing January of 1812, Lord Wellington pushes his army on to the fortress town of Ciudad Rodrigo and a bloody siege with tragic consequences. Colonel Paul van Daan and his wife Anne have a baby son and in the aftermath of the storming, take a brief trip to Lisbon to allow Paul’s family to take little William back to England. With his career flourishing and his marriage happy, Paul has never felt so secure. But his world is shattered when his young wife is taken prisoner by a French colonel with a personal grudge against Paul. As Wellington’s army begins the siege of Badajoz, the other great Spanish border fortress, his scouts and agents conduct a frantic search for the colonel’s wife. Meanwhile Anne van Daan is in the worst danger of her life and needs to call on all her considerable resources to survive, with no idea if help is on the way.
This book covers both triumph and miserable retreat and was a wonderful opportunity both to introduce some new characters and to revisit one of the major storylines from the first book. It turned out to be more emotional than I expected and I loved being able to highlight one of my favourite characters whom I felt I’d neglected a little. The story of the retreat from Burgos was impossible to glamorise and highlighted both the best and the worst of Wellington’s army.
It is June 1812 and back with her husband and his brigade, Anne van Daan is beginning to recover from her ordeal at the hands of Colonel Dupres as Lord Wellington marches his army into Spain and up to Salamanca. In a spectacularly successful action, Wellington drives the French back although not without some damage to the Third Brigade of the Light Division.
Still recovering from their losses at Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz earlier in the year, the Light Division remains in Madrid while Wellington lays siege to Burgos but some of Paul’s brigade have troubles of their own.
Lieutenant Simon Carlyon is determined not to allow his dead brother’s shameful reputation to blight his career in the army but finds it harder than expected to serve under the man who killed him. Colonel Johnny Wheeler is finding the lie he told to protect others difficult to live with, faced with the unrelenting hostility of a young officer. And Captain Michael O’Reilly’s life becomes complicated through a casual act of kindness.
The end of the campaigning season is not going as well for the Allied army and triumph turns to an undignified and dangerous retreat. At a time when the discipline of Wellington’s army seems to have broken down, Van Daan’s brigade need to set personal matters aside and concentrate on staying alive long enough to reach safety.
That’s as far as I’ve got with the novels. My next book is intended to be the sequel to An Unwilling Alliance, covering the disastrous Walcheren campaign of 1809. I’ve not been able to find a novel covering this campaign before so it feels like uncharted territory. I intend to pick up Hugh Kelly’s story, but as the campaign once again involved both army and navy, I will be joining the men of the 110th second battalion, who, while Major van Daan was leading the first battalion to glory in the Peninsula, were unlucky enough to be sent to Walcheren. The working title is An Inauspicious Expedition.
The other books in the Peninsular War Saga, as planned so far are as follows:
An Unrelenting Enmity: set during winter quarters from December 1812 to April 1813
An Auspicious Action: the story of the battle of Vitoria
An Uncivilised Storming: the Pyrenees and San Sebastian
An Inexorable Invasion: the invasion of France
An Improbable Abdication: Toulouse and the return to England
An Unmerciful Engagement: Waterloo
An Amicable Occupation: the Army of Occupation
Looking at that list, I feel a combination of excitement and sheer terror. At present I seem to be able to manage two books a year, but some of these will take more research than others, so I don’t promise that. There will also be more in the Manxman series, since I hope at some point to be able to reunite Hugh Kelly and Paul van Daan.
Currently, I’m beginning the research for the book about Walcheren, which will be published some time next year; I can’t give a date yet until I have a better idea of how long the research will take. I’m also making notes about book 6 in the main saga, which may be quicker to write, given that it is set outside of the main battles and campaigns, although obviously, given that this is the 110th, there will be some action.
So far, most of the books have been published only as e-books, but I am working at changing that. Early next year I am hoping to have all the books in paperback on Amazon, and then to get them into some bookshops or for sale on my website later in the year.
I’ve come a very long way from believing that nobody wants to read another series about the Peninsular War, and I’m so grateful to all my readers, especially those who follow me on facebook and twitter and visit my website regularly. Some of you have left fabulous reviews as well, and every good review is like a gift, even if it’s only a couple of lines.
It has been a good year in many ways at Writing with Labradors, despite losing our beloved Toby. We’re so grateful we have Oscar to step into his paw prints, and we’re looking forward to an even better 2019. In the meantime, remember to look out for book giveaways on Amazon on Christmas Eve, in honour of the Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood. And for future giveaways and updates, please click on the link to subscribe to the newsletter.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Writing with Labradors.
In the run up to Christmas, and with the latest book up and running, I’ve decided to devote this blog to sharing some of my favourite books with you. Last year, on Christmas Eve, I did a post about the Christmas Book Flood, or Jolabokaflod. The concept was new to me, but I loved it.
In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi. Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.
The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary and people love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.”
There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity. In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books. The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.
The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me. Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient. Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.
Last year, to celebrate this fabulous tradition, I offered some of my e-books free on Christmas Eve, and the take-up was phenomenal. I like to think I found a lot of new readers on that day and I intend to do the same thing again this year. But I also wanted to do a Christmas countdown of books that I’ve read and loved; a sort of literary advent calendar which has started late. Some of them are fiction, some are non-fiction, but all of them have a particular place on my shelves, both actual and electronic. I hope that reading about some of them will cause some of you to buy them, either for yourselves or for family and friends, as part of our own Christmas Book Flood.
Merry Christmas from all of us at Blogging with Labradors.
Nicholas Whitham has left the army for the unexciting life of a land agent in Regency Yorkshire, but his peace is disrupted by the arrival of Miss Camilla Dorne a young lady of doubtful reputation.
The Reluctant Debutante, the second book in the series, tells the story of Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe, formerly one of Wellington’s exploring officers and Cordelia Summers, a wealthy merchant’s daughter with an independent attitude.
A Marcher Lord is a tale of love and war among the Border Reivers on the sixteenth century Anglo-Scottish borders, where a Scottish lord encounters a young Englishwoman who may or may not be a spy.
The concept of a “fallen woman” in twenty-first century Britain is so alien as to sound completely absurd, but to our Victorian ancestors it would have seemed completely natural, and homes for fallen women were an accepted part of life.
The term “fallen woman” would have been used to describe any woman who might have been considered to have lost her innocence or her virtue and had thus fallen from God’s grace like the biblical Eve. In nineteenth century Britain the term became associated with any woman considered to have stepped outside the boundaries of what was socially and morally acceptable. It was believed that a woman’s sexual experience should be entirely restricted to marriage and that she should be subordinate to a man; father, husband or other male relative.
There were few employment opportunities for women during the nineteenth century, particularly middle or upper class women who were expected to maintain their social class even in desperate times. Prostitution was rife in various forms but the term “fallen” was not restricted to a woman who had been obliged to support herself in this way. It was widely used to refer to any sexual activity outside matrimony and could as easily be applied to a woman having an extra-marital affair as to a woman who had been raped. In some cases, it was enough for a woman to behave in ways that differed from the social norm; a woman choosing to live alone or to pursue interests not considered suitable for a woman was also likely to be considered to have “fallen” and lost her reputation. Dancers and actresses, for example, were often assumed to be sexually available simply because of the nature of their profession.
The rapid growth of the cities during and after the industrial revolution, particularly London, resulted in a rise in the number of prostitutes working in the cities. This was seen as a problem, and brought about many rescue and rehabilitation schemes, often run by middle-class women. Some were based on religion, some on social principles but the assumption was that it was good for both society as a whole and the women individually if they could be returned to a “moral” life.
Some of the reformers worked on changes in the law, for example Josephine Butler in her opposition to the Contagious Diseases Acts. Others served on committees to raise funds for charities. A few worked on the ground in the various homes for fallen women which were set up around the capital and in other cities to try to draw women away from their immoral lifestyles. These homes varied a good deal. Some took a punitive attitude to women who had strayed. Rules could be strict and the staff unsympathetic and critical. Other homes, however, such as Urania Cottage which was set up and run by Charles Dickens and Lady Burdett-Coutts was considered a well-run place with understanding staff.
The moral code of the time meant that those working with fallen women could find that their motives were viewed with some suspicion. Prime Minister William Gladstone and his wife Catherine worked directly with some of these women, spending both time and money to try to rehabilitate them but Gladstone’s political career was placed in jeopardy when it was suggested that his interest in the cause had a more sinister motive.
The home mentioned in A Respectable Woman, the Lyons Home, is fictional but is based on some of the more sympathetic establishments. It is what we would probably call, in modern terms, a refuge and not all of the women who entered were prostitutes. Some were women fleeing from an abusive husband or partner, some were trying to escape from a pimp, others were just girls who had found themselves destitute for a time, needing somewhere to stay.
Like Prime Minister Gladstone, Dr Marshall in the book finds himself in trouble over his involvement with this particular cause. The men who lived with or employed the women were not always happy at middle-class interference and it was easy to spread rumours that something more sinister was involved. Moral judgements in Victorian England tended to be unsparing although it was usually women who bore the brunt of them.
A Respectable Woman is about a young woman who finds it difficult to conform to the expectations of a middle-class female in the 1850s. Born and raised on a mission station in Africa, Philippa Maclay has to curb her free spirit and hide her intelligence and independence in order to achieve the respectability she needs to survive. While working in London’s East End with “fallen women” or girls who might well become that way, she is very aware that without the ability to support herself in a respectable post she is in constant danger of losing her reputation and finding herself in the same situation. Her friendship with Kit Clevedon, which is essentially platonic for much of the book, would have condemned her in the eyes of respectable society.
Despite everything, Philippa refuses to conform to society’s harsh view of “fallen women” and her own treatment of the women and girls within her care is practical and sympathetic. She understands fully how they came to be in their desperate situations and she is unwilling to judge, knowing that she is as human and fallible as they are and understanding to that the men in their lives are equally responsible for their situation. Since a Respectable Woman is, in the end, a historical romance, Philippa is allowed to have her happy ending. Most women in her precarious situation were not so fortunate and the stigma of being a “fallen woman” too often meant that one step across the line between respectability and so-called “immorality” led to the stark choice between destitution and prostitution.
Welcome to 2018 at Writing with Labradors. It’s New Year’s Day on the Isle of Man, and it’s raining, windy and freezing cold. In some ways this is a relief because if it had been a nice day I would have felt obliged to go out for a walk and I don’t feel like it.
It’s been a very different and very busy Christmas this year, with Richard’s family with us for the whole of the holidays, and then entertaining friends to dinner last night. I’ve had no time to write, research or do anything else and in some ways that’s been quite hard.
I think it has probably done me good, however. Time away from the current book has given me the chance to think through what I’d like to do with it and I feel a lot clearer about where it is going. I’m very happy with the few chapters I’ve written and research is going well so I’m looking forward to getting on with it. I think my head may have needed the break.
It’s made me think a bit more about how I schedule my writing time going forward. I’m very privileged that I don’t have to hold down a full time job at the same time as writing, but I do have a very busy life with a family, my dogs, a big house to maintain and accounts and admin to be done for Richard’s business. I’m aware that it’s very easy to let things slide when I’m in the middle of a book, but I realise that I need to be better organised both with the various tasks through the day and with time off to relax.
This year I’ve edited and published seven existing novels, with all the associated marketing and publicity, I’ve written an eighth book from scratch and published it and I’ve started a ninth. I’ve handed my Irish dance school over to my two lovely teachers to run, I’ve supported son and daughter through GCSEs and AS levels, my old fella Toby through an operation at the age of 13 and I’ve had a major foot operation myself. I’ve toured the battlefields of Spain and Portugal where some of my books are set and I went to Berlin, Killarney, London, Hertfordshire, Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool. I lost a very dear old family friend and went to his funeral. And I’ve gained some amazing new friends, some of whom I’ve not even met yet, although I’m hoping to this year. I’ve set up a website and an author page, joined Twitter and Instagram and I genuinely feel I can now call myself an author, something I had doubts about in one of my first posts on this website.
It has been an amazing year and I’m so grateful for all the help and support I’ve received. I’ve not won any awards, although I’ve had one or two reviews which have felt like getting an Oscar. Still, I’d like to do the thank you speech, because it’s the end of my first year as a published author and I owe so many people thanks for that.
I’m starting with the man I married, who has been absolutely incredible throughout this. He set up my website and taught me how to use it, and has always been there to answer any questions about technology. He spent hours designing the new covers for the Peninsular War Saga and he also took the photographs which are gorgeous. He drove me through Spain and Portugal, scrambled over battlefields and listened to me endlessly lecturing with more patience than I could have imagined. He has celebrated my good reviews and sympathised over the bad ones. He’s been completely amazing this year – thank you, Richard. You are the best.
My son is studying for A levels at home and shares the study with me. That’s not always easy, as during research I tend to spread out from my desk into the surrounding area, onto his table and onto the floor. He has become expert at negotiating his way through piles of history books. He is also a brilliant cook and will unfailingly provide dinner at the point when it becomes obvious I am too far gone in the nineteenth century to have remembered that we need to eat. Thanks, Jon.
My daughter is my fellow historian and brings me joy every day. She mocks my devotion to Lord Wellington ruthlessly, puts up with my stories, lets me whinge to her and makes me laugh all the time. She drags me away from my desk to go for hot chocolate and to watch the sun go down, watches cheesy TV with me, helps me put up the Christmas decorations and corrects my fashion sense. Thank you, bambino.
There are so many other people I should thank. Heather, for always being there and for offering to proof-read; Sheri McGathy for my great book covers; Suzy and Sarah for their support and encouragement.
Then there are the many, many people online who have helped me with research queries, answered beginners questions about publishing and shared my sense of the ridiculous more than I could have believed possible. There are a few of you out there but I’m singling out Jacqueline Reiter, Kristine Hughes Patrone and Catherine Curzon in particular. I’m hoping to meet you all in person in 2018 and to share many more hours of Wellington and Chatham on Twitter, Archduke Charles dressed as a penguin and the mysterious purpose of Lady Greville’s dodgy hat. A special mention also goes to M. J. Logue who writes the brilliant Uncivil War series, and who is my online partner-in-crime in considering new ways for the mavericks of the army to annoy those in charge and laughing out loud at how funny we find ourselves.
The new book is called An Unwilling Alliance and is the first book to be set partly on the Isle of Man, where I live. The hero, a Royal Navy captain by the name of Hugh Kelly is a Manxman who joined the navy at sixteen and has returned to the island after Trafalgar with enough prize money to buy an estate, invest in local business and find himself a wife while his new ship is being refitted. It’s a tight timescale, but Hugh is used to getting things his own way and is expecting no trouble with Roseen Crellin, the daughter of his new business partner. Her father approves, she is from the right background and the fact that she’s very pretty is something of a bonus. It hasn’t occurred to Hugh that the lady might not see things the same way…
The title obviously refers to the somewhat rocky start to Hugh and Roseen’s relationship, but it has other meanings as well. The book moves on to the 1807 British campaign in Denmark and the bombardment of Copenhagen, in which Captain Kelly is involved. The Danes were unwilling to accept British terms for the surrender of their fleet to avoid it falling into the hands of the French and as an alliance proved impossible, the British resorted to force.
In addition, there was something of an unwilling alliance between the two branches of the British armed forces taking part in the Copenhagen campaign. There is a history of difficulties between the Army and the Navy during this period, and given that the Danish campaign required the two to work together, there is an interesting conflict over the best way to conduct the campaign.
The naval commander during this campaign was Admiral James Gambier while the army was commanded by Lord Cathcart. While Captain Hugh Kelly served under Gambier in the British fleet, a division of the army under Cathcart was commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley and Brigadier General Stewart and consisted of battalions from the 43rd, 52nd, 95th and 92nd – the nucleus of the future Light Division, the elite troops of Wellington’s Peninsular army. In An Unconventional Officer, we learn that the expedition is to be joined by the first battalion of the 110th infantry under the command of the newly promoted Major Paul van Daan and An Unwilling Alliance looks at the campaign from both the army and naval perspective, filling in part of Paul’s story which is not covered in the series.
I am hoping that the book will be published at the beginning of April 2018 and it will be followed by book 5 of the Peninsular War Saga, An Untrustworthy Army, covering the Salamanca campaign and the retreat from Burgos some time in the summer. After that I will either get on with the sequel to A Respectable Woman which follows the lives of the children of Kit and Philippa Clevedon or the third book in the Light Division series, set after Waterloo.
We’re hoping to go back to Portugal and Spain this year for further photography and battlefield mayhem. I’ve got some new ideas for the website and will be publishing several more short stories through the year. My first research trip is in a couple of weeks time when I’ll be visiting Portsmouth and the Victory, the National Maritime Museum and possibly the Imperial War Museum if I don’t run out of time. And the Tower of London for no reason at all apart from the fact that Wellington used to enjoy bossing people around there.
My final thanks go to the real stars of Writing with Labradors. Toby, my old fella, is thirteen now and survived a major operation this year far better than I did. Joey is eleven and needs to lose some weight. They are my friends, my babies and my constant companions and I can’t imagine life without either of them although I know that day is going to come. Thank you to my dogs who are with me all the time I’m working and who make every day happier.
Happy New Year to all my family, friends, readers and supporters. Looking forward to 2018.
In Iceland there is a tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the evening reading which is known as the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” as the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving.
At this time of year, most households in Iceland receive an annual free book catalog of new publications called the Bokatidindi. Icelanders pore over the new releases and choose which ones they want to buy.
The small Nordic island, with a population of only 329,000 people, is extraordinarily literary. They love to read and write. According to a BBC article, “The country has more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book.
There is more value placed on hardback and paperback books than in other parts of the world where e-books have grown in popularity. In Iceland most people read, and the book industry is based on many people buying several books each year rather than a few people buying a lot of books. The vast majority of books are bought at Christmas time, and that is when most books are published.
The idea of families and friends gathering together to read before the fire on Christmas Eve is a winter tradition which appeals to me. Like the Icelanders, I love physical books although I both read and publish e-books – sometimes they are just more convenient. Still, the Jolabokaflod would work with any kind of book.
They are also easier to give away, and this year I want to celebrate my own version of the Jolabokaflod with my readers, by giving away the e-book versions of some of my books on kindle for two days, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. It is two years since I first made the decision to independently publish my historical novels, and it has gone better than I ever expected. This is my way of saying thank you to all my readers and hello to any new readers out there.
Visit my Amazon page to download the following books free, tomorrow and the following day:
A Respectable Woman – The daughter of a nineteenth century missionary is torn between love and propriety
A Marcher Lord – Divided loyalties on the Anglo-Scottish borders in Tudor times
This excerpt from A Respectable Woman describes Philippa Maclay’s first Christmas in the East End as a teacher at Wentworth’s School for Girls, a charitable foundation. Daughter of a missionary who was murdered by slavers, she is obliged to support herself but is finding her post more congenial than she expected.
Wentworth’s School is directly based on Raines Foundation School, now in Bethnal Green but previously in Arbour Square in Stepney which is the school I went to back in the 1970s.
The Christmas holidays arrived, and more than half of the Wentworth’s pupils went home to their families for the celebration. The others, orphans or those whose families were unable to house them, like Joan Carter, remained at the school. There were some ten girls left, including Carter, who was still very weak, but just beginning to get out of bed for part of each day, and Phillips, Miss Chadwick’s prize pupil, whose aristocratic relatives clearly had no place for her in their festive celebrations. Christmas at Kola had always been primarily a religious festival, and Philippa had no experience of the more secular joys of the season. Both Miss Grafton and Miss Bentley had family with whom they would spend the holiday, and without their disapproving presence, Wentworth’s seemed to relax. The Board of Trustees had approved extra provisions for the celebrations, and Miss Chadwick, who seemed to have the ability to stretch money beyond belief, was planning a gala dinner on Christmas Day. Philippa was looking forward to the holiday. Without her more censorious staff, Amelia relaxed, and included her junior in the holiday plans as if by right. Philippa had dreaded spending the season alone, but found that there was no question of that. Amelia was determined to give her remaining charges a proper holiday, and Philippa found her services called upon to plan and organise the day. The school seemed quiet with most of its pupils gone, and although the girls still had their domestic duties, and scripture lessons continued, there was a holiday air. Every morning the girls set off for a walk after breakfast. Domestic tasks occupied the rest of the morning, and after luncheon, they were busy with needlework, learning their catechism or practicing their skills as parlour maid. But they were allowed more levity and more recreation time, and occasional lapses of behaviour were treated with leniency. On Christmas Eve, they received a visit from a number of the Board of Trustees with their wives and families. The Board consisted of around twenty-five local men, mostly businessmen, with a sprinkling of solicitors, doctors and clergymen. Standing slightly to one side of the group, Philippa noticed Mr Duncan, the local vicar, with his wife, and Dr Marshall. Prayers were held in the hall, and then the girls were called up one at a time to receive a small book from Mr Wentworth, who was Chairman of the Board. Prayer books, Philippa guessed, or some other religious tract. The Chairman then made a lengthy speech about the history and traditions of the school, and how fortunate were the girls who received their education there. Although Philippa deplored his pompous, condescending style of oratory, she reflected, looking at the scrubbed shiny faces looking up at him, that he was probably right. For the girls who made it through their time at the school and who took advantage of the opportunities it gave them, this was indeed fortunate. At the end of Mr Wentworth’s speech, there was another prayer, and then the girls were dismissed in the charge of Mary Phillips, to wash and prepare for evening service. Most of the Board left, to go to their own Christmas Eve services, but Mr Wentworth, along with Mr Simmonds, his deputy, and his wife, accompanied Miss Chadwick to the mistresses’ parlour. Philippa, following a sign from Miss Chadwick, joined them, as did the Duncans and Dr Marshall. Sherry and glasses had been set out on the table, and Miss Chadwick smilingly poured, while Philippa handed out the glasses. A toast was solemnly drunk. Wentworth’s eyes were moving around the room, assessing its contents. “Miss Chadwick, surely that bookshelf is new! And those books! I have not seen them before!” “They were provided by Miss Maclay, sir,” Amelia said composedly. “They belonged to her late father and she has kindly placed them at the disposal of our teachers.” Wentworth stalked across the room, his eye running over the titles. “They seem educational enough,” he said grudgingly. “The sherry is excellent,” Mr Simmonds said, as if not wishing to be outdone in suspicion. “Not purchased with school funds, I hope?” “The sherry was a gift from Dr Marshall, sir,” Miss Chadwick said, still pleasantly. Philippa shot a covert glance at that gentleman, and saw from the gleam in his eye that he was enjoying the scene just as much as she was. “I did not see Carter at prayers, Miss Chadwick,” Mrs Simmonds said. “She was not well enough to come down,” Miss Chadwick said. “But I hope she will be able to attend service tomorrow.” “I should hope so too!” Mr Simmonds said, sententiously. “Sickness should not be used as an excuse for idleness!” “I shall see that it does not,” Miss Chadwick agreed demurely. “I read your report on the accident,” Mr Wentworth said. “It seemed brief.” “I gave you all the information I had,” Miss Chadwick said. “Carter remembers very little of the event, and nothing at all of arriving back at school.” “How can you be sure that she is not deceiving you?” Mrs Simmonds said. Philippa looked at her assessingly. She did not like Mr or Mrs Simmonds. Wentworth was pompous, self important, but basically well meaning, she decided. He might quibble about money and expenses, but he trusted Miss Chadwick to take care of the girls, and to make the right decision. Mrs Simmonds on the other hand, she was sure, would make trouble if she could. She did not know that there was anything suspicious about Carter’s illness. She just assumed the worst. Dr Marshall spoke quietly: “Carter was not deceiving anybody about the extent of her injuries. I was not sure that I would be able to save her. The injuries were consistent with being struck by a carriage of some kind. To be honest, I assume that the driver recognised her dress as a Wentworth’s girl and brought her home. I don’t think she could have got here by herself.” “Then why did he not give an account of himself?” Wentworth said, peevishly. Philippa suspected he was thinking longingly of his hearth, his dinner and his cigar. “Because he was afraid of the consequences,” Dr Marshall said casually. “Especially if he had been drinking, it would have been hard to explain how he came to run down a schoolgirl on her way back from visiting her sick father.” “But she is on the mend now?” Mr Duncan said. “She is much better,” Dr Marshall said. “We must thank God that it ended so well,” the clergyman said, and Miss Chadwick, with demurely lowered eyes, murmured a devout ‘amen’. It was not long before the visitors took their leave. Only Dr Marshall remained. When Philippa returned from escorting them to the door, she found him sprawled in one of the chairs while Amelia poured more sherry for all of them. “Where did this come from, Amelia?” Dr Marshall asked. “It really is very good!” “You didn’t buy it?” Philippa said, startled. “Good Lord, no. Never heard of it until this afternoon.” “It was a gift from Jenson’s father,” Amelia said. “He’s a stevedore at the docks and he’s always sending us gifts. I suspect the origin of most of them, which is why I kept quiet. Philippa drink up!” Philippa smiled. “I am not accustomed to wine,” she said. “Any more and I’ll be drunk.” “I should like to see that,” Dr Marshall said, laughing. “Dr Marshall – you aren’t going to.” “Call me Tony. All my friends do.” “Tony. And will you call me Philippa?” “Certainly. Although only when we are not on duty.” He raised his glass with a lazy smile. “Will you come to church with us, Tony?” Amelia asked, getting to her feet. “Why not? You should have an escort, in this neighbourhood.” Amelia glanced at her assistant and grinned. “Oh, I’d say Philippa is a match for most local drunks in a fight. Did I tell you how she dealt with Joan Carter?” It was dark when they set out, a neat crocodile of trimly dressed creatures, their thick winter cloaks wrapped around them, their blue bonnets bobbing along beside the two mistresses and the doctor as they made their way along the dark streets. It was a bitterly cold, clear night and the stars were miniature beacons in the sky. Looking up at them, Philippa was reminded suddenly of the African night, crisp and cold and beautiful, like the night she had met Kit Clevedon. To her horror she felt tears start behind her eyes. She was homesick. Ridiculous to feel it now, in the grey filth of the East End streets, filled with the stink of poverty and wretchedness. There was nothing here to make her think of Kola. But hurrying past the seaman’s taverns, the public houses, the brothels and the overcrowded, teeming tenements and lodging houses, she could smell the fresh clear air, could hear the gentle lowing of the oxen and the occasional whinny of the horses. She missed it. She missed her father, with a different ache of pain, but she was becoming accustomed to that loss. She had expected it, prepared for it, and was living with it. What she had not been ready for, was this overpowering longing to see wide, open spaces instead of dirty streets, to hear the musical tones of the Mashona instead of the harsh cockney of most of her pupils. She missed her friends, the black children with whom she had grown up. She missed the girls, who had taught her to weave and the boys who had taught her to fight, and to climb trees and to use a hunting knife without hesitation or mercy, a skill which had very certainly saved her life. In the midst of this busy city she was suddenly bitterly lonely. “Are you all right?” Through her tears, Philippa looked up into the kind grey eyes of Tony Marshall. He had moved to walk beside her and had unobtrusively taken her arm. “Yes, I’m sorry.” She fumbled for her handkerchief and mopped her eyes. “Don’t ask my why, but I was suddenly homesick.” Tony glanced around him. Opposite, two sailors staggered out of a brilliantly lit doorway, their arms around two woman, raddled creatures of indeterminate age, dressed in shabby satin, shivering in the cold. Further along the road, a drunk was vomiting into the gutter. None of the girls even looked up. They had all seen such sights before. “It’s probably the contrast,” he said wryly, and Philippa laughed. “Probably. Do you think any of those noble gentlemen know what these girls walk past every time they go to church?” “Oh, some of them. Does it upset you, Philippa? The sights you see here?” “It upsets me because it’s what man has done to his own,” Philippa said. “I’ve seen the Mashona people dying of hunger when their cattle were hit by plague or when their crops failed. But those are acts of nature. These people live this way because their fellow man allows it. Expects it. I think I am very naïve in many ways.” “I think you have lived a very different life to any other English girl I have met,” Tony said. “It makes you unusual.” “That’s a nice way of putting it.” He laughed. “I don’t know what else to say. Philippa, you dress the same as every other woman of your station in life. But when you walk along a London street, people turn to stare at you, because you don’t walk the same. You walk as if your skirts are a hindrance and the buildings are crowding you. And your eyes look as if they are used to a wider horizon than this.” Philippa was silent for a moment. “I see. I didn’t realise I was so obvious.” “It isn’t something you do, it’s who you are. There are probably dozens of missionaries’ daughters who are nothing like you. But for all your appearance and your speech and your education, you aren’t really English. Not like me, or Amelia, or any of these girls. Africa was not just somewhere you lived, it was your home. Of course you miss it.” Philippa gave his arm a little squeeze. “That makes me feel a little less like a freak. Thank you, Tony. No more tears.” The church, bathed in flickering candlelight, was crowded that Christmas Eve. As the girls filed into their pews, Philippa looked around at the congregation. Most of the people looked reasonably prosperous. Some were very obviously middle class, the businessmen and professional men with their wives and families. Others were probably small tradesmen, butchers and bakers, managers of factories, and some of the skilled dockworkers, like stevedores, coopers and rope makers. The poor were absent. There were no ragged clothes or bare feet in the church that Christmas Eve, and none seemed surprised at their absence. Philippa supposed they would celebrate their Christmas in the public houses, and she was not sure that she blamed them. Would prayer and thanks to God keep out the cold, and the hunger and the worry about unpaid rent and unreliable work nearly as well as three penny worth of gin or port? Back at the school there was supper, a merry affair with at least twice as much food as usual, and no rules about talking at table, no solemn scripture reading. When it was over and prayers were said, the children were packed off to bed, and Amelia turned to her cousin. “Where did you put them?” “In your study. I take it you’ll want my help?” “If you expect me to climb a stepladder you must be all about in your head!” Amelia said bluntly. “Come along Philippa, there’s work to be done.” Curious, Philippa followed them to Amelia’s study. To her astonishment she found it piled high with boxes of greenery. There was holly and ivy and mistletoe, great boughs of fir tree, still decked with pinecones. “What on earth is all this?” she asked, bewildered. “To decorate the refectory and the schoolroom, of course. For Christmas.” Amelia’s voice was muffled behind the box she had picked up. “Didn’t you do that in Africa?” “The Mashona didn’t really know that much about English Christmas customs,” Philippa said sardonically. “Neither do you, it appears,” Tony said, holding out a box. “Prepare to be educated, then.” “I wanted a Christmas tree,” Amelia said, as they set down their burdens in the schoolroom. “But they were too expensive, and as Tony paid for this, I couldn’t insist.” “A Christmas tree?” Philippa was baffled. “It’s a new idea. The Prince brought it from Germany. They set up a fir tree in the house and decorate it with baubles and candles. I saw one last year when I visited the Wentworths on Boxing Day, but I don’t suppose any of the girls have ever heard of one.” “Then they won’t miss it,” Tony said firmly. “Stop talking and start working, Amelia. I do not plan on being here until midnight.” But it was not far off midnight when Philippa finally fell into bed, after an evening of hanging Christmas greenery, and laughter, and conversation and wine. She had never known an evening like that. Perhaps, after all, there was something to be said for having friends of her own race and her own culture. She had never felt the lack before, having been content with her father and her African friends. But she found that although she had not enjoyed the stilted, formal social manners of many of the English visitors to the mission, or of the people she had met on her one visit to England, she did enjoy the laughter and banter of Amelia and her cousin. Kit Clevedon had been like that, she thought, as she turned over in bed. She had often wondered about the nature of her liking for Clevedon. Having reached the age of sixteen without much interest or awareness of any of the young men she had met, she had thought that perhaps she was a little infatuated with the handsome young officer. But it had not been his looks or his charm that she had valued, she realised now. It had been his quick wit and his ready laughter, the companionship of a like-minded person for which, without realising it, she had hungered. Christmas day passed in a whirl of activity at the school. Breakfast over, the girls walked to morning service at St George in the East again, then hurried back through the frosty streets to help prepare the Christmas dinner. Amelia had worked magic with her limited resources, although Philippa suspected that there had been additions from her cousin to swell the feast. There was roast goose with all the trimmings followed by plum pudding and mince pies. Tony was spending Christmas day with friends, although Amelia was expecting him that evening. After luncheon, Amelia brought out a large basket of brightly wrapped gifts, and handed one to each girl. There were no religious tracts or prayer books, and the children were visibly delighted with the bright ribbons and lace handkerchief, which their mistress had provided for them. In the afternoon there were games of hunt the slipper and Blind Man’s Buff and Charades. By the time the children went to bed after evening prayers, both they and their mistresses were exhausted. Amelia and Philippa retired to Amelia’s parlour, where Philippa was surprised to find Tony awaiting them and a cold supper set out on the table. “Who did this?” Philippa asked, sinking gratefully into a chair. “My housekeeper and cook,” Tony said. “I think the cab driver thought I was going to entertain my mistress until we pulled up here. Now he just thinks I’m donating my leftover Christmas dinner to the deserving poor.” “You are,” his cousin informed him, rapidly filling a plate. “I certainly can’t afford lobster patties. Is that burgundy you’ve brought? Will you open it, please?” Philippa smilingly accepted a glass from Tony and allowed him to fill a plate with food. She was not in a talkative mood, and was happy to sit back and listen to the cousins as they squabbled over the food and talked about the day. “How were the Paisleys?” Amelia asked. “All well. They asked about you. Wanted to know if you were married yet.” Amelia laughed. “They would. I think I enjoyed myself here just as much as I would have at some dull dinner party. Sadly, tomorrow won’t be as enjoyable.” “Where are you going tomorrow?” Philippa asked. “My traditional boxing day dinner with the Wentworths.” Amelia sighed. “Never mind, it is only once a year. That reminds me, Philippa. Miss Grafton and Miss Bentley will be back here by eleven tomorrow, and after that you are on holiday, if you please, until Monday when school commences again. Do not, while I am out, allow them to bully you into helping them.” “I may as well. I don’t have any plans.” “Well make some,” Amelia told her severely. “They take advantage whenever they can, and it isn’t good for them.” Philippa did not argue, although she was at a loss to know what plans she might be expected to make. However, the matter was taken out of her hands the following morning, at eleven o’clock sharp, when she found Tony Marshall awaiting her in the hallway. “So you are off duty now.” Philippa laughed. “Did Amelia send you to check up on me?” “No, I have taken that office upon myself. If you have no plans, I thought you might like to come and see how I spend the rest of my time.” Philippa regarded him thoughtfully, her head on one side. “I would,” she said finally. “But on Boxing Day, Dr Marshall, don’t you have any other engagements?” “If I choose to spend my time with you, Miss Maclay, that is an engagement,” he said gravely. Philippa went to put on her outdoor shoes, bonnet and cloak, and joined him in the hallway. It felt strange to be leaving the building on an expedition of her own. In the four months she had been at Wentworths, she had left the school only in company with the pupils, always on school business. She had little money for cabs or omnibuses, and besides which it was hard for a female to go about unaccompanied. In the environs of the school the danger was real and tangible, and Philippa was not foolish enough to risk it. Even in Africa she had travelled with a gun or a knife, and since she could hardly do that here, she was restricted in her movements. There was another consideration, too. In all her years at Kola she had never given a thought to impropriety or to her reputation. Her father was not a worldly man, and it had never occurred to him that in allowing his daughter all the freedom of a boy, he might be damaging her in the eyes of the world. But with his death, Philippa had been made aware of the fact that her independence and freedom of speech and movement were frowned upon by the narrow confines of the society in which she was now expected to move. She knew she was different. It had not needed Tony Marshall to tell her that. She walked, in the heavy skirts and cloaks that propriety demanded, with difficulty, always longing for the light cotton skirts or breeches in which she strode about the mission. She did not always understand the rules by which she must now live, but knew that she was expected to be modest and demure, to walk in the street, if she walked at all, with lowered gaze and little speech. She was lucky to have found two friends, in Amelia and Tony, who could value her for herself, and who could allow her to be herself, but she did not deceive herself into thinking that they were average. She could not take herself off on expeditions of pleasure because she had no acquaintance and no chaperone, and to do it alone would be to expose her to criticism and censure, which she could ill afford. So she enjoyed her walk, through the silence of Boxing Day, with Tony Marshall’s easy steps at her side. They turned right onto the Commercial Road, and walked past shops and lodging houses, past tall business premises and small, shady public houses, now silent after the night’s revelry. There was a faint scent of spices on the breeze from the warehouses, almost overlaid by the smell of human beings crowded together into too little space. Presently Tony led her across the wide street and down Sutton Street towards the Ratcliffe Highway. Philippa, who was beginning to know a little about the area, glanced at him. “Are you by any chance luring me into a den of vice?” she asked. He grinned. “Something like that. Down here.” They turned into a narrow lane, lined on either side with gloomy, decaying two storied houses. Away from the wider streets the smell was worse, a combination of human waste, cooking, cheap gin and sweat. Philippa wrinkled her nose slightly, and then smiled. Attending one of the tribal ceremonies of the Mashona ought to have deadened any sensibilities she might have had about bad odours. There was a rotting pile of refuse in the middle of the street and two mangy dogs were rummaging about in it. Tony stopped before one of the larger houses about half way down the lane. He knocked, and presently a middle-aged woman, respectably dressed in grey, opened the door. “Dr Marshall. What a pleasant surprise. Do come in.” Philippa followed them through into the main kitchen, which was a big, square room, furnished with an old fashioned range, and several tables with wooden benches beside them. About ten women, ranging in age from about fifteen to about thirty were scattered about the room. One was stirring something on the range and one or two others were chopping vegetables at one of the tables. Some had sewing on their laps, and at least two were nursing small babies. The room was bare, but surprisingly clean and orderly. Tony turned to Philippa. “Miss Maclay, may I present Miss Ellis, who runs the Lyons Refuge. Miss Ellis, this is Miss Philippa Maclay, who now assists my cousin at Wentworth’s. While I am here, I would like to see Carrie again. How has she been?” Miss Ellis shook her head. “Very quiet, sir, not like herself at all. I don’t know what to think. The bruises are coming out nicely, and she bears the pain well, but she doesn’t say a word. I expect she’s ashamed of herself, and so she might be, with the trouble she’s caused us, but still, I don’t like the look of her.” “I’ll go up to her now.” Tony smiled at Philippa. “Perhaps you could show Miss Maclay around.” Miss Ellis smiled at his retreating back. “I’ll gladly do that, miss, but there’s not much to see. We do our best, but it’s not like the school. We’ve no money, you see, save what the mission can send us, and that’s little enough.” “How many women do you have living here?” Philippa asked. “Oh, anything between ten and thirty,” Miss Ellis said readily. “They don’t stay for more than a few nights, miss, not generally. They come from their husbands or their keepers, who beat them, or they’ve run away from the workhouse, or they’re sick and can’t work for a while. Most of them lead very irregular lives, Miss, if you take my meaning.” “You mean they’re prostitutes?” Philippa asked. The older woman nodded. “Yes, miss. We don’t ask and we don’t judge. We take them in, feed them and patch them up, and then one day they’re gone, and we don’t know where. Some come back, others we never see again. We never turn any away. Some bad winters, we have two to a bed and some sleeping on the floor, even here in the kitchen.” “Do any of them find other work?” Philippa asked. “Some. The younger ones, mostly, who were forced into this by hunger or need. Or the respectable ones, who were seduced by them who should know better, servants and the like. Kathleen over there is one of those. She’s been with us for a whole month, after her master took to her, as you might say, and then threw her out. It’s lucky that she fell in with us. We should be able to find work for her. But most of the others don’t want it. They’re not educated, Miss – only fit for a maid of all work, or for manual labour, and even this life is often better than that. Not like your girls at the school.” Philippa was silent as they toured the overcrowded little house. Nearly all the rooms were converted into dormitories; with iron bedsteads so close together that she wondered where there was space for the women who sometimes slept on the floor. Compared to this, Wentworth’s was the height of luxury. No wonder Joan Carter had risked her life to remain there rather than sink to this. “Who runs the place?” she asked Tony when they were outside once more. “One of the missions rents the house and gives a little money for food. A local Jewish business organisation contributes, as does the Parish church occasionally. Miss Ellis and the other workers are all volunteers. The women do their own cooking, washing, cleaning etc, and they sometimes take in sewing for money, like the school. Naturally we don’t tell the good ladies who give us work that prostitutes hem their linen. They think that respectable old ladies at the mission do the work.” “Is there something I can do?” Philippa asked. He glanced down at her. “Are you addicted to good works, Philippa?” She laughed and shook her head. “Oh, no. Just to being busy – and useful. And it would give me something to do on my days off.” “What do you do at present?” Tony asked curiously. “Mostly, I stay home and read.” “If you’re sure, I’ll speak to Miss Ellis. I should think she’d be delighted. Now, then – shall I shock you further with a tour of some of our local haunts? Would you like to see the docks?” “Yes, I should,” Philippa said serenely. “This is very kind of you, Dr Marshall.” “It is my pleasure, Miss Maclay,” he said seriously, and offered her his arm.
A Respectable Woman was the first full novel I wrote and the first to be published. It is set outside my normal time period of the Napoleonic wars, in the Victorian era and tells the story of Philippa Maclay, a young woman who finds herself orphaned and penniless in an era which was unforgiving to a middle class woman who needed to earn a living.
Much has been written about the plight of women in the days when there were very few respectable occupations open to a girl other than marriage. Marriage is not an option for Philippa when she loses her father and her home after an attack by a slave band on the African mission station where she grew up. Middle class women left without means of support could become a governess or a companion and maintain their respectability but they were vulnerable to losing their jobs. They were also expected to behave with the utmost circumspection and any hint of immorality was likely to see them turned off without a character. Women could – and did – sometimes find themselves destitute and the Victorian sex trade had it’s share of girls from good families fallen on hard times.
Those fortunate enough to keep their jobs were not always in a happy position socially. They were caught between social classes, a cut above the servants but not welcome in the drawing rooms and parlours of their employers. They were also, especially if young and inexperienced, potentially at risk from exploitation from predatory males; this has been a device of endless romantic novels.
Philippa is fortunate enough to have been offered a position teaching at a charity school in East London and has come to love the work but her temperament is not well suited to the rigid rules of society. She was not raised to be a lady and she resents the constraints placed upon her. In particular she refuses to give up her friendship with Kit Clevedon, a well-born army officer whom she met in Africa, despite knowing that it could ruin her. Kit himself has very definite ideas about Philippa, none of which include marriage, but he has come to value the friendship which is all she is willing to offer.
The school depicted in the novel is based on Raines Foundation School in East London which was my school back in the seventies, and anybody familiar with the school will recognise the location as the Arbour Square building. The running and organisation of Wentworths School is based on original material about Raines from local archives. This included Founder’s Day, a tradition celebrating the birth of Henry Raine which was still in existence when I left school in 1980.
The girls were noisier than usual, caught up in the excitement of the day, and Miss Chadwick was more lenient than she might have been. It was better, she pointed out to Miss Bentley, when she complained, that they work off some of the excitement before their visitors arrived, than during the celebrations. Morning school was cut short by an early meal of bread and cheese, and then the girls lined up, immaculate in their blue cloaks and bonnets, for the walk to the church. Most of the dignitaries had already arrived when the school party filed into the church, and quietly took their places in the pews allotted to them. Mr Duncan began the service with a hymn and a prayer, and then various members of the Board filed up to the lectern to read, to lecture or to pray. Philippa allowed her attention to wander, and moved her eyes idly over the congregation. By now she recognised most of the Board members and their wives. One or two had brought their children with them, expensively dressed and every bit as bored as the Wentworths girls by the tedious speeches and moralising. Philippa wondered what they thought of being dragged to this event, to watch children whose lives were so far removed from their own. Mr Wentworth sat at the front, and beside his wife sat a tall dark lady, demure in grey, who must be Lady Alverstone. On the other side of her was a tall young man in military uniform. Philippa stared in growing astonishment and horror. She could only see the back of his head, but she did not need him to turn round to recognise Kit Clevedon’s chestnut hair. What he was doing here, she could only guess. Lady Alverstone, of course. Had he not said that his mother was addicted to good works? That would explain, Philippa thought furiously, how her Ladyship had come to hear about the school. Philippa glanced around. Tony was sitting alongside Mrs Duncan at the front. There was no way of knowing if he would make any connection between the young officer so gallantly escorting his mother, and Philippa’s supposed lover. But once he heard Kit’s name, as he surely would, he would know. Silently fuming, Philippa awaited the end of the service. There was no conversation as the girls filed out of the church and through the churchyard to the imposing marble tomb, which marked the final resting place of Oliver Wentworth. Prayers were said, and then Mr Wentworth, Miss Chadwick, and one of the girls each stepped forward and placed a wreath on the tomb. After that, the girls formed up to be marched back to school, and the visitors meandered more slowly through the sunlit churchyard to their carriages, to be conveyed back for tea. Philippa would have accompanied them, but Miss Chadwick, who was escorting the guests to their carriages, detained her. Miss Grafton and Miss Bentley marched off, both backs rigid with indignation at the favour shown the younger mistress, and Amelia drew Philippa forward. “You will remember Miss Maclay, Mr Wentworth.” “Of course I do!” Mr Wentworth said, with unusual heartiness. “I hear nothing but praise for you, Miss Maclay, from all sides. We were fortunate to find you. Miss Chadwick, allow me to introduce you to Lady Alverstone, who has been kind enough to show interest in our little school. And this is Major Clevedon, her son, who is her escort today.” Lady Alverstone held out a friendly hand. “Miss Chadwick, I am impressed with your pupils, and can not wait to see your school.” The pleasant grey eyes moved to Philippa, and Lady Alverstone reached out her hand again. “And Miss Maclay. Although we’ve never met, I know what a debt of gratitude I owe to you.” Speechless with embarrassment, Philippa bobbed a small curtsey and took the older woman’s hand. She was aware of the puzzlement on the faces of those around her, and although she could not see his face, she could feel Tony Marshall’s outrage behind her, as his nimble brain assimilated the facts. Lady Alverstone turned to Mr Wentworth. “Many years ago, during his service in Africa, my son visited the mission station run by Miss Maclay’s late father. He was attacked by a lion, and wrote to tell me that only the courage and presence of mind of Miss Maclay saved his life. I shall always remember that.” Philippa found her voice at last. “I think the Major may have exaggerated my services a little, ma’am,” she said. “Not at all,” Kit said, holding out his hand. “As well you know, Miss Maclay. It has been a long time. Too long.” She was obliged to take his hand. Anger lent her courage, as always. Lifting her chin she met his laughing green eyes steadily. “Certainly, sir. And so much has happened in between.” “Well, well, Miss Maclay!” Mr Wentworth was positively jovial now. “It seems you have been too modest. Come, come, there is no need for either of you to walk back to the school. There is space in our carriage.” Back at the school, lessons recommenced, while the selected girls served tea in the refectory to their guests. Philippa had planned to join her class, but Miss Chadwick, quick to sense the advantage of Philippa’s connection with the Alverstone party, and wholly unaware of her young friend’s discomfort, sent a message for the monitor to take over the class, and kept Philippa with the tea party. Unsure of what Kit might say or do next, Philippa kept as quiet as possible, and was relieved when she found herself seated next to Mrs Wentworth, a pleasantly garrulous woman, who talked of the school and of her children without pausing for breath. At the end of the meal, Philippa rose to supervise the clearing of the plates into the kitchen, and the party began to prepare for the tour of the school. Returning to take up her place with her class, she unexpectedly found Kit standing by the doorway. It would have seemed rude to pass him by without a word, so she managed a smile and murmured apology. “Am I in disgrace?” he asked in a low, amused voice. “How can you ask that? Even if you had warned me!” “I’m sorry, Philippa. The opportunity seemed irresistible. And I wanted to see you here – at work.” “Well you’re about to. I need to get to my class. When this is over, I’m going to kill you!” He laughed and stepped aside. Philippa stepped into the hallway, and found herself face to face with Tony Marshall. It was clear that he must have heard every word of their encounter. She saw consternation in Kit’s face. “It’s all right,” she said quickly. “He knows.” “I see,” Kit drawled. Philippa wanted to hit him, and was sorely tempted to hit Tony, but there was no time. The party was beginning to drift towards the door. “Don’t start anything – either of you!” she hissed, in a savage undertone. “If either one of you says just one word to jeopardise my job, I’ll illustrate my next Bible class with a live demonstration of a crucifixion!” She marched past them and into the schoolroom. Kit gave a choke of laughter, but found no answering smile in the cold grey eyes of the doctor. On reflection, Kit supposed he did not blame him. In the eyes of Tony Marshall there could be nothing funny about Kit’s pursuit of the girl he loved. As they joined the schoolroom party, Kit watched the other man. Even without his prior knowledge of the doctor’s feelings for Philippa, he would have sensed Marshall’s tangible hostility. Wisely, Marshall dealt with it by removing himself to the far side of the group. The party stopped at the fourth class, taught by Philippa, and Marshall’s grey eyes never left her as she took the older girls through a series of sums, corrected gently, a girl made careless by nerves, behaved to all intents and purposes, as if she were not under observation at all. Mr Simmonds then asked if he might examine the class, and Philippa gave her gracious permission, and watched as he fired a few questions at the nervous girls. They performed well, and seemed to have genuinely absorbed the lessons. Kit looked at Philippa again. He had been speaking the truth when he said he had wanted to see her in her own setting. All their meetings had taken place in his world. Here, in the world she knew, she was quietly competent, friendly but slightly distant, at home with herself and sure in the knowledge that she was doing a good job. He could sense that the girls liked her and strove to please her. He was very aware of the close friendship that seemed to exist between herself and Miss Chadwick. And he found it slightly unnerving to realise that here, he was a fish out of water, much as she must have felt in his world. She was wearing a new dress. It was clearly bought with work in mind, and was too plain for his taste. But the colour suited her, and she looked beautiful. He was amused to see that he was not the only man here who thought so. Both Wentworth and Simmonds were watching the teacher more than the pupils. He was relieved when the party moved on to the next class. Now that he was here, he was not sure that it had been such a good idea to come. In his dreams, he had wanted Philippa out of here. He had thought of her as a poorly paid drudge, and had wanted to place her in luxury, with expensive clothes, and fancy servants. He had wanted her dependent upon him, available when he needed her company, her pretty face and her body for his pleasure. It occurred to him for the first time that he was never going to have those things. When it had just been a case of her moral scruples, he had never doubted his ability to seduce her. But he realised now that he was competing against a life that she had no wish to give up. She had taken this job because she needed to, but she was doing it because she loved it. She was at peace here, and content in a way that she could never be as the pampered mistress of a rich man. And as badly as he desired her body, it surprised him to realise, that it was just as important to him, that she should be happy in her choice. If he were ever to have Philippa Maclay as his mistress, it would be on her terms and not his. The interminable afternoon wore on, and finally the visitors were leaving, drifting slowly to their carriages, still talking, full of tea and goodwill, making complimentary remarks to Miss Chadwick. Miss Bentley and Miss Grafton sent the girls off to wash before supper, and Philippa found herself standing beside Lady Alverstone. “I was very impressed by your lesson, Miss Maclay.” “Thank you, ma’am. I had good material to work with.” “The girls here are very lucky to have such dedicated teachers.” The older woman smiled and offered her hand. “I hope to have more to do with your school in the future. I will be talking to Mr Wentworth further about it, but I am sure that we can do more to help such a good cause.” Philippa’s smile was genuine. “Thank you. I think the girls are worth it.” Kit appeared beside her. “A very interesting afternoon, Miss Maclay. I commend you.” “Thank you, sir.” He said no more, and she was glad of it. There were too many confusing emotions crowding her, and she wanted time alone in her room to think and to sort out how she felt. She could never be anything other than glad to see Kit, but his presence here had unsettled her. He had invaded her world, and nothing would ever feel quite the same again. She went through to join the girls at supper, and Miss Chadwick joined them, and made a short speech complimenting both girls and teachers on the success of the day. After supper she sent the girls to bed. Both Miss Bentley and Miss Grafton followed them shortly after, and Amelia turned to Philippa. “Let’s go to my parlour. It’s more comfortable, and I have a nice Madeira, which is just begging to be drunk. I know Mr Wentworth would be shocked, but I think we’ve earned it, don’t you?” “Yes,” Philippa said firmly. “Let us go immediately!” In Amelia’s sitting room, Philippa took possession of her favourite armchair, while Amelia poured two glasses of the rich wine. She handed one to Philippa who thanked her and sipped it with a sigh. “That is much better!” she said. “They should serve it after all such functions as this! Was it really a success, Amelia?” “Oh yes. The Board are very impressed, and will go away and write a very favourable report of the event which will be neatly filed away in their records and never be seen again. I shall probably receive a complimentary letter, which will go the same way. Philippa – thank you. Once again, you have proved invaluable.” “The bulk of the work was yours.” “And the best impression came from you. Mr Wentworth was especially impressed, although I’m not sure whether that was because of your excellent teaching or your connection with the Alverstones.” Philippa felt herself flush. “I have no connection to the Alverstones.” “You think not? Her Ladyship seemed eager to imply otherwise. And saving the life of the son of an Earl is certainly a way to get noticed.” “It was hardly my thought at the time.” “I suspect not. Can you tell me about it?” Philippa shrugged and placed her wine glass on the table. “It was nothing extraordinary. Two English officers were on a hunting furlough, and one of them decided a night ride to the mission was a sensible idea. He was attacked by a lion. I was on my way home from the kraal of a local chief, whose son I had been treating for an injury. I had a gun with me and frightened off the animal before it did too much damage.” “And Major Clevedon did not forget about it.” “Apparently not.” “He thought enough of it to tell his mother. And that could mean a lot for this school.” “Kit isn’t a philanthropist, Amelia.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Philippa could have bitten her tongue. Knowing that an attempt to retrieve her mistake would only arouse further suspicion, she took refuge behind her glass. “Kit?” Amelia queried gently. “Major Clevedon. Formality wasn’t great at the mission, and that’s the name he gave us. I didn’t know he was related to the Alverstones until today, although I knew his father was a peer.” She smiled and shrugged. “To be honest, that didn’t have much meaning on the mission either. He was just Kit.” “And you haven’t seen him since?” Amelia said casually. Too casually. Philippa sighed. “Yes. We’ve met socially once or twice.” “You didn’t mention it.” “I didn’t think it important. I’ve met a lot of people through my Cousin, Amelia. I ran into Kit at the theatre one evening. My party and his were slightly acquainted. And be honest, what would you have thought if I had specifically mentioned him?” “Fair enough. Philippa, I don’t claim the right to pry into your social life. I’m glad you have one. But my feeling was that there was more to your acquaintance with Major Clevedon than met the eye. And at the moment, it is important that your reputation remains spotless.” Philippa raised her eyebrows. “Why?” “Because you are going to receive a summons to see the Board some time over the next week or so, and they are going to offer you the job of Deputy Superintendent of the school. And since it has taken me months to talk them into it, I don’t want anything to jeopardise their decision.” Philippa stared at her in complete astonishment. To cover her confusion she took a gulp of wine and put the glass down on the table. “Why me?” she said finally. “I should have thought that was moderately obvious. You’re the only person I’ve ever employed here who was competent to do the job. You’re intelligent, a good teacher and a good manager. I want you to have the job, and there will be a salary increase. I hope you’ll accept it.” “If it’s what you want, of course I will,” Philippa said quickly. “But it’s going to cause some resentment you know. Miss Bentley and Miss Grafton….” “Will be furious. I know. But Miss Bentley has already given her notice. She is retiring. Miss Grafton…let us say she was never my appointment, and it would not distress me greatly if she moved on. We will advertise the post as soon as possible, and I hope your appointment will have been confirmed in time to help me with the interviews.” “Thank you,” Philippa said. She felt oddly shaken, and slightly tearful. “I mean – thank you for your confidence in me. I won’t let you down, I promise.” “I know that, my dear. I have total faith in your good sense, your integrity – and your discretion.” Amelia smiled faintly and leaned forward to pick up the wine bottle. “Your glass is almost empty. Have some more wine.” Philippa held out her glass. “Thank you,” she said, more steadily. “And I still promise that I won’t let you down.” “Philippa – just don’t let yourself down, and I’ll be happy,” Amelia said quietly. “Now tell me what you think we need to say in this advertisement.”
Twenty three years ago today I got married and the anniversary has made me think about love and marriage, an important issue in all of my books.
Inevitably it was in a castle. Dalhousie Castle on the Scottish Borders is a beautiful place, converted into a hotel with a small chapel which as far as I know still does weddings. Ours was a small affair with only close family and two or three friends. We went on honeymoon afterwards and then came back and had a huge party with all our friends to celebrate.
I write historical fiction with a strong element of romance so relationships and how they develop are of interest to me. I also spent years working as a relationship counsellor which meant I saw the ups and downs of more couples than I can remember. And I’ve been in a relationship now for around twenty seven years. Believe me, I’ve thought about love and marriage during all this.
It’s the aim of a writer of romance, even if the romance is only part of the theme of the book, to try to make it realistic while still retaining the magical element of falling in love. A lot of romantic novels end with wedding bells, or at least with the couple falling into each others arms and admitting that after all their trials and tribulations, they want to be together. There’s something very satisfying about reading the last page, closing the book, and knowing that the couple that you have become attached to (hopefully) have worked it out.
Of course they haven’t. They’ve just worked out the first bit. There’s a whole lot of work still to come which a lot of the time we don’t see. But because I do get attached to the characters I write about, I do wonder what happened to them next.
In historical fiction, the drama of divorce would have been less common. Certainly before the Victorian era when divorce became slightly more realistic, although still very difficult, only the very wealthy could afford divorce which had to be confirmed by an act of Parliament. And it was only available to men.
This didn’t mean that couples didn’t separate. For many it was a quiet affair, simply drifting apart and living separate lives. There was not always the same pressure for couples to spend all their time together as we have now. These days, if one partner takes a job which keeps them away for weeks, months or even years at a time, there is often an expectation that the marriage is going to fail. In the early nineteenth century, married officers and men in the British army might not see their wives or families for years. Some marriages did end during that time but a surprising number succeeded, helped along by endless letter writing and a determination to keep the relationship alive.
There was probably a different attitude to adultery in some quarters, for men at least. It was not considered so shocking for a man to have relations with a mistress as long as he was discreet. In an age where many marriages, particularly among the middle and upper classes, were arranged for reasons other than love, one wonders how often both partners were unfaithful at times. Some of these marriages worked very well. Others did not. There are examples of both of these in the books I’ve written.
I do wonder, though, if some couples pushed through their difficulties and came out stronger when divorce and separation were more difficult. Some, we know, lived in misery, and I wouldn’t go back to the days when divorce was seen as shocking. But relationships are tough at times and there’s a feeling of satisfaction in coming out the other side of a difficult patch and feeling close again.
I’ve been thinking about the couples in my books so far and wondering how they’d do. Jenny and Will fromA Marcher Lordwill do well, I suspect. Both had parents who made successes of their marriages; Will’s had an arranged marriage and Jenny’s was a runaway love match but both worked. Jenny and Will would have led a busy and active life keeping castle and estates running successfully and they have already proved they make a good working team. They’ll argue, but they have shared values and interests and I think they’ll be fine. I’m planning a second book featuring this couple some time next year and I’m looking forward to catching up with them.
Cordelia and Giles from The Reluctant Debutante come from different social backgrounds, but she’s already proved that she can make the shift into the Ton very well. I think both of them enjoy country life. They might argue about social obligations; she’s probably always going to be more social than he is, have better manners and be nicer to people. But they share a sense of humour and a love of the ridiculous and I think for Giles there will always be an enormous sense of gratitude to her. He was in bits after Waterloo and she’s a big part of his rehabilitation. There is a planned series of books set around the lives and loves of some of the men and women of the third brigade of the Light Division after the war, of which this is the second, so I think we will meet Cordelia and Giles again.
Kit and Philippa from A Respectable Womanare the most interesting in some ways. Somebody who has just finished the book and loved it asked about a sequel and it has made me think how this marriage is likely to work. Of all of them the gap between these two is the widest. Philippa has a lot to learn about how to be a Countess and for all his protestations that she can do as she likes, Kit is going to need to learn to let her be herself. I think the key to this one is going to be for both of them to find something to do outside of the marriage so that neither of them feel smothered. They’re both used to being busy and having a job to do. The big advantage that they have is Kit’s mother, a very wise and understanding woman who is going to be a big help to Philippa. I think they’ll be all right but I suspect there might be a few fireworks along the way.
Then we have Paul and Anne who began their journey in An Unconventional Officer. There is a lot about relationships in this and the subsequent novels in the Peninsular War saga. There’s no point in speculating about Paul and Anne because their story doesn’t end with the book, it continues through the series. We’re going to see how Paul and Anne and the other characters cope with trying to be together in the middle of a war and it’s not always likely to be easy.
I’ve been lucky enough to see an example of a very happy marriage with my parents. They’d been married for over fifty years when my Dad died and there were definitely ups and downs. But they stayed devoted to one another. Theirs is a story I’d like to write one day
In the meantime, Happy Anniversary to the man I married. 23 years and we’re still here. It feels like something to celebrate…
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At the age of thirty two, Giles Fenwick, Earl of Rockcliffe had earned himself a reputation in the polite world as a dangerous rake, adept at seduction and quick to boredom with the women he pursued. The matchmaking mammas had welcomed him with open arms three years earlier upon his return from Waterloo, a professional soldier come unexpectedly into the ancient title and accompanying fortune. These days, the Earl was aware that the same ladies eyed him askance and warned their delicate charges to avoid him if possible. There seemed no prospect of him doing his duty and marrying to secure the succession, and few mothers would have wanted to entrust their daughters to the scarred, cynical Earl with his unpredictable temper, his reputation for seducing married women, for keeping low company, having expensive mistresses in his keeping and for saying whatever outrageous thing should enter his head on any occasion. The nobility of his birth and the size of his fortune ensured his continued welcome in the houses of the ton. Rockcliffe, who had returned from the army reluctant to be in any kind of society, was sardonically amused at how easy people found it to ignore his behaviour when dazzled by his title and money. But he had little in common with most of the well born people who saw themselves as his equals, and at times found their company stifling and overwhelmingly tedious.
Rockcliffe knew that the nature of his military service had a good deal to do with that. For many years he had served in the Peninsula under Wellington. Initially an excellent junior officer of light infantry, his intelligence, his talent for languages and his initiative had brought a transfer and he had served for much of the war as an exploring officer. These officers in Wellington’s army were under the command of the Quartermaster General. They operated on their own or with one or two local guides and their task was to collect first-hand tactical intelligence by riding to enemy positions, observing and noting movements and making sketch maps of uncharted land. The work was highly dangerous and required physical fitness, good horsemanship and a willingness to take risks. Captain Giles Fenwick had been a legend in Wellington’s army, his exploits talked of and laughed over in mess and over campfires.
It was a solitary life, and bred independence and impatience with rules and conventions. Hardly the best training, the Earl thought wryly, swinging himself out of bed, for an Earl entering polite society. But he could have done better if he had tried harder. He had not wanted to. The years of danger and excitement, the fights and the killing had culminated in the horror of Waterloo where he had seen friends and comrades cut down around him. He had expected to die from the wounds received on that day. But he had lived, had come home to be courted and feted by the polite world who would have petted him and made a hero of him if they could. He could not bear it – and made no attempt to hide the fact.
I’m delighted by how many people seem to be reading and enjoying The Reluctant Debutante which is now also available in paperback.
By the time we meet him in a humble tavern on the London road in 1819, Giles has inherited a title from his uncle and is the Earl of Rockcliffe. It has been a difficult transition for Giles who was, for many years, a penniless young officer in Wellington’s army, initially in a line regiment and then as one of Wellington’s exploring officers. He returned to regular service for the battle of Waterloo where he was seriously wounded and lost Simon Carlton, one of his best friends.
For anybody who would like to know more about Giles’ early years before he met and fell in love with a merchant’s daughter, you’ll be glad to know that the opportunity will arise during the course of the Peninsular War Saga as the regiment that young Ensign Fenwick joins is the first battalion of the 110th Infantry, commanded by the young and flamboyant Major Paul van Daan.
I wrote The Reluctant Debutante as a standalone novel and when I began writing the first of the Peninsular Books some time afterwards, the connection did not immediately occur to me. Giles was an exploring officer who operated away from the main army. However, as I spent more and more time researching Wellington’s army, it became clear to me that Giles would have started out in an ordinary regiment before being seconded to that post. We already know that he was poor, with no money to join the guards or an expensive cavalry regiment, and we also already know that his uncle, whom he visited, had an estate in Leicestershire, the home county for the 110th.
Giles is a few years younger than Paul van Daan. When Paul joins the 110th in 1802 he would have been just fifteen, still at school. But it did not seem unreasonable that when he was looking to join the army, he might have found a commission in the local regiment, the 110th cheap to buy, just as Carl Swanson did some years earlier. Moreover, I had a strong feeling that the young Giles Fenwick was probably the sort of lad who would catch the attention of Major van Daan and his clever wife. They like young officers with a strong personality and a lot to offer and Lord Wellington was always looking for men who might be suitable for his Corps of Guides.
After that the connection was obvious. Giles does not appear in the first book, although he joins the 110th in 1805 when he is eighteen. But he has the misfortune to be commissioned into the seventh company of the first battalion under the disaster that was Captain Vincent Longford, which means it is going to be some years before he finds himself under the command of Major van Daan. What happens then and how he becomes an exploring officer will be told during the course of the series.
I love connections like this, and having realised that I was going to be able to explore Giles’ back story as part of my saga, I realised that thanks to having unintentionally used the same surname in two of my books, I could create another connection, this time with the gallant Major Kit Clevedon of A Respectable Woman Kit is another officer who comes late into a title unexpectedly, but at twenty he gained financial independence from his bullying father when he inherited a small estate from an uncle. It didn’t take me long to work out that the character from An Unconventional Officerwho shares his surname would have been 68 had he died that year. It would appear that Gervase Clevedon, one of Paul’s most reliable officers and very good friends, was the uncle from whom Kit inherited. I wonder if it was his idea for Kit to join the army to get him away from his unhappy home life? I rather suspect that it was; Gervase was a very good soldier and would have approved of the life for a favourite nephew…
Giles Fenwick also makes a cameo appearance in A Regrettable Reputationwhich is now the first book in the Light Division Romances, a series which follows the stories of some of the supporting characters from the Peninsular War Saga back into civilian life after the war.
My third standalone novel, A Marcher Lordis from a different time period entirely. However, the Scottish borders have provided fine soldiers to His Majesty’s armies for many hundreds of years. I have a strong suspicion that although nobody would know it, some red haired descendent of Will and Jenny Scott would have been fighting alongside the Van Daans, the Fenwicks and the Clevedons on Wellington’s front line. I’ll let you know if I run into him at some point.
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