Thursday, 31 December 2020

Tim's 8th birthday

 Today is Tim's 8th birthday! He's having  lie-in

 as celebration!

We did a long walk yesterday - well, long for us - 

and may well do a similar one today if the sunshine holds. We don't mind the cold as long as it is bright and cheerful. 

Nearing the end of the re-write of Abduction. It will be so much better than the original. I'm thinking of a new cover and title, too.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Jolabokaflod


 What's Jolabokaflod?

 It's the Icelandic tradition of giving books as gifts on Christmas Eve. In English, we might call it the "Christmas Book Flood."

The members of the Historical Writers' Forum are celebrating the festival this year by offering gifts of books. Make sure you're following our Facebook page to keep up to date with all the offers and giveaways - or click here to see a complete day-by-day list.

Today it's my turn. Silver Season was published at the end of November, so it will be new to almost all of you. It is no secret that I watched Downton more than once and felt so in tune with their world that I began to imagine other storylines set in that time. 1911 was the year of a heatwave in the UK, the coronation of George V and the investiture of the Prince of Wales – yes, the one who went on to abdicate in favour of life with Mrs Simpson. The Titanic was launched, there were strikes up and down the country and the 1911 Census revealed that one in every 7 employed persons was a domestic servant. A different world from our own, and yet strangely familiar.

The e-book will be yours if you visit my Facebook page and tell me - JenBlackauthor - the name of Ellen’s grandmother-in-law!

I hope you squeeze my first chapter into your Christmas reading!

 


Ellen blamed the heatwave. Somehow the endless high temperatures made outrageous behaviour acceptable when a cool English summer would have labelled it unthinkable. She had no idea what lay ahead of her the night she escaped the cheerful party crowd for a few moments alone in the darkened garden room attached to Bowood. Sagging against the cold iron pillar, fighting a rare wave of homesickness for Boston, Ellen stared through the tall conservatory windows. The moon hovered above the tall trees that flung shade half-way across the lawns. Against all that darkness, the reflection of her diamonds sparkled softly in the pale moonlight.

The woodsy, exotic scent of the tropical plants filled her nostrils. Muted now, she heard the sounds of the dance band and the happy chatter of her guests in the great hall. Nearby a water droplet fell from leaf to leaf and a small fountain in the corner provided a constant arpeggio. Bowood was so beautiful she almost wanted to weep.

Footsteps hurried closer. Through gaps in the greenery she glimpsed Charles, empty-handed, weaving his way toward her. She sighed. He had either forgotten her request, or some important guest had distracted him. Another glass of champagne would have lifted her spirits.

“Darling!” He seized her waist in both hands and before she could speak, kissed her with huge affection. A moment later he dragged the slender straps of her pale blue gown from her shoulders.

“No! Charles!”

He ignored her protestation. “Oh, Ellen, kiss me!”

Alarmed, she got her elbows between them and pushed with all her might until he took a small step back. “You know I hate this!”

“But I love you, my darling, and we both know what needs to be done before October.” He dragged her hips close against him.

“Then we must go upstairs.” She stepped back. “That’s what bedrooms are for.”

“Needs must,” he murmured, pulling her close once more. “Darling! Be bold tonight! You know how this excites me.”

“But it alarms me,” she muttered, furiously pushing him away. “Someone could appear at any moment. Charles!” Really, it was ludicrous to be fighting off one’s husband in one’s own conservatory while the dance band played on in the grand hall fifty yards away. At the sound of tearing cloth, she wrenched her mouth free of his and shoved him away as hard as she could. A stylish Worth gown might be well made but it would not stand up to such brutal handling. In threatening tones reminiscent of her ancient governess, she uttered one word: “Charles!”

To her frustration, it did not stop him. He simply turned his attention to her breasts, revealed momentarily in all their moonlit beauty as the gown slipped lower. Oh, how was she to stop him now? There was no handy plant pot within reach – not one she could lift – and already he scrabbled at her skirts.

“It’s all right, old thing. We are married!”

“It is not all right,” she declared as he propelled her back against the pillar. “Stop! Please – Charles! This is no way to beget an heir.”

The 5th Marquess of Durrington, now an old man in his eighties, was the reason for such dreadful behaviour. He had told Charles that if no heir had arrived by the first day of October, then he would give all his considerable property and assets to the nearest Dr. Barnardo’s home. He was eccentric, of course; but the idea that he might actually do as he threatened frightened Charles, to whom the idea of losing Bowood and living in penury was unthinkable. As his anxiety increased, his libido decreased, and he found it difficult to do his duty by her. As a result, their lovemaking was either feast or famine, depending on his mood. Recently, an exotic location seemed to inspire his endeavours.

She did not dislike making love; rather the opposite if she told the truth; but in three years of marriage there had been no sign of a child and she had begun to wonder which of them was to blame.

“Charles? Are you there?” The mature female voice boomed around the conservatory.

Ellen and Charles froze.

“I told you!” Ellen muttered. “I told you someone would come!”

“It’s Granny. What can she want?”

“Ignore her,” Ellen muttered against his ear. “Pretend we are not here.”

“Charles? Must I come and find you?”

“That was much closer,” Ellen whispered. “What shall we do?”

“It is no good.” Charles, peering through gaps in the rampant greenery, groaned. “She’s coming over.” He drew back and fumbled with his trousers.

“Go and meet her. Keep her away from me!”

Charles veered to one side to avoid a large shrub, ducked beneath a hanging branch, and headed for the conservatory door. “Good evening, Granny. Is anything wrong?”

“Why Charles, what have you been doing? You look quite flushed.”

Parting leaves to make a tiny spy hole in the greenery, Ellen stifled a giggle. Charles must have heard her, for he cleared his throat, his fingers straying to his white tie as he said quickly, “It’s all the dancing I’ve been doing. Makes a chap rather warm, don’t you think? Came out here for a breath of cooler air. What can I do for you?”

The Marchioness was an imposing figure at any time. With her silver-gilt gown glistening against the greenery, a fragile tiara balanced atop her grey curls, and numerous rows of pearls wrapping her throat, she surveyed her grandson. “Never do anything to excess, Charles. It is bad for you.”

“How can I help, Granny?”

“Where is dear Ellen?” Lettice Byland glanced round the vast conservatory as if expecting to find her granddaughter-in-law lounging against a palm tree. “I came to tell you that your grandfather wants to see you at once.”

Ellen bit her lip. Charles would guess what the summons meant. The Marquess would have had a glass of wine or two and demand to know if Charles had yet got his wife with child and if not, why not.

There was a long pause and then Charles said, “I do not wish to speak to him.”

Ellen’s eyes opened wide. Had Charles meant to say such a surprising thing? Usually placid and forbearing, she had only once heard him shout and that had been over a badly treated horse. Granny seemed surprised too, for she considered him carefully before saying, “Why, my dear boy, you simply cannot refuse.”

“I can, and I shall,” Charles insisted. “I refuse to be harangued yet again over the prospect of my raising a family on his command. It is too much an invasion of our privacy. I will not have it.”

With a sharp inclination of his head, he turned away and stormed across the open space between the huge terracotta tubs and planters.

Ellen slipped behind one of them and inhaled deeply. She had no wish to be discovered and interrogated by the Marchioness. Hiding was her best option. Her shoulder strap, never properly in place after rough handling from Charles, slid from her shoulder and without looking, she hitched it back into place.

“Ellen? Are you in here?”

Eyes shut, praying she would not be found, Ellen wedged herself more firmly behind the largest plant pot she could see and then, wondering if her reflection would give her away, glanced at the windows. A grinning figure stared at her from the other side of the glass. Ellen froze, rigid with shock, and forgot to breathe.

The glass conservatory door closed with a disagreeable crash that sounded loud in the silence. Granny was not pleased, then. Glancing over her shoulder Ellen glimpsed the old lady’s silvery form disappearing into the house. Sucking in a deep breath, she swung back to the window. Who was this person who leered at her?

What was he doing there? How long – oh, my God, had he been there when Charles kissed her?

The gigantic pots prevented her escape. She would have to stay where she was or walk toward the window before she could leave. Why was he smiling? He gestured that she should look down, and without thinking, she did so and then wished the floor would gape and swallow her.

Automatically she flicked the strap up onto her shoulder to hide the pale roundness of her breast. Heat flooded her cheeks. She turned her back on him in the hope he would go away but feared he would not; if he were a gentleman, finer feelings would have prevented him making his presence known. He would have retreated without disturbing her. Closing her eyes tight, she prayed that he would go now and let her escape to her bedchamber.

He must be a workman of some kind. A gardener, perhaps. Certainly, a fellow who lacked the finer instincts.

When she plucked up courage to check, there was only darkness beyond the glass. He had gone. Air rushed from her lungs and her shoulders sagged. Thank the Lord for small mercies. Darting out of her hiding place, she hitched up her gown and ran for the door. Oh, the embarrassment! No wonder the wretch had been smiling; he must have seen Charles and herself struggling. To an outsider it must have seemed the height of amusement.

Without a thought for her husband she dashed up the wide staircase. The chatter and laughter of her guests faded behind her and a few moments later she sank back against the bedchamber door to shut out the world. What a night! With a heartfelt sigh she gazed at the crimson velvet curtains, the nightlight thoughtfully left burning for her. An almost sheer nightgown had been draped over a chair close to the fire.

A strong, saturnine male face slid into her thoughts; oh Lord! If he was employed by Charles she ran the risk, no; the embarrassment of seeing him around the estate. It would be unbearable. Mortifying, to be constantly reminded of her folly. No. Rather her husband’s folly. If only Charles was not driven to fulfil his grandfather’s demands, the incident would never have happened.

She loved her handsome husband and had no regrets about marrying him. None at all. Well, perhaps a little when he kept going on and on about the need for a child, as if she could do anything about it.

He grew more desperate every day.

Her childless state drove her grandfather-in-law to thump the bed covers and utter the horrid words. “There must be a child!”

He was not alone. Her own mother back in Boston asked the same question in every letter and of her three sisters, only dear Olivia, the youngest, had not asked why she was waiting so long. Charles had confessed he felt obliged to apologise every time one of his relatives asked if the patter of tiny feet might soon be heard in Bowood.

She pushed away from the door, walked to her dressing table, and stooped to peer into the mirror. She must go downstairs again. One could hardly disappear from one’s own party. Her face was somewhat flushed, but that could be attributed to drinking pink champagne in rather greater quantities than usual. Checking that her gown had suffered no damage and that the straps were firmly in place, she turned to the door. The tearing sound must mean a torn flounce on her underwear, but her maid would take care of that tomorrow. Taking a deep breath, she marched out into the corridor with her spine as stiff as that of a guardsman. Time to face the enemy. She would not let these English aristos get her down.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Looking back

 I am reluctant to listen to tv news because it is so depressing. Likewise Facebook. The cruelty and ignorance in the world is terrifying. It is almost as if one begins to feel guilty for being happy. 

Amazon has changed its reporting of KDP stats yet again, so now it is difficult to find out what is selling on a daily basis. Yes, a running monthly total is fine, but that is not the way I checked how I'm doing for the last couple of years. Perhaps they change so that we cannot make long term checks and comparisons!

I have a new camera ( a present from my darling hubby) but learning how it works is a challenge. Together we are slowly getting to grips with it. I have not dared take it outside yet.

I am trying to consolidate all the pics I have and this one is from a holiday in Aosta way back in 2006. We were on a skiing holiday up in Pila. The thing I remember most is the glutinously thick dark chocolate drink we bought in Aosta! I wonder if they still make it the same way? It was so good it's almost worth going back to see if they do!



Friday, 11 December 2020

Engaging the little grey cells.

 Maybe I'm getting old, but tv these days seems to be dumbing down to the level of seven year olds. We spend our tv time watching  stuff recorded in the afternoon on Drama channels and such like. Some programmes I never watched all the way through when they first showed - which is why I am enjoying Spooks now. For some reason I stopped watching after Adam Carter was blown up in a car bomb and now I'm carrying on. I know which of the original vet programmes to avoid so I don't end up in tears, I know the As Time Goes By episodes almost by heart and if they put The Good Life on again, I'd watch that. Monarch of the Glen? Yes, and proably a few more oldies. They were stories instead of over-poweringly loud bangs and shootings; something you could actually engage with. 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Metadata woes!


 I am experiencing a bit of trouble with Amazon KDP - 

I must have pressed the wrong buttons somewhere because 
my book is definitely set in Yorkshire, UK, and yet the entry
on Amazon says it is US Historical Fiction. 

Don't believe it, people!
My heroine is an American, certainly, but she married an 
English lord and settles in his home to raise a family.... in Yorkshire,
except that the anticipated children are reluctant to appear.

I am in contact with the Help Desk people and hopefully by tomorrow the 72 hours will be up and alterations will have been made. (Actually the 72 hours are up already but I really dare not look to see if the problem has been rectified.) I am keeping my fingers crossed until tomorrow.