Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An Art Restorer's Assessment of the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen

The results of the work undertaken by Paris-based restorer, Eva Schwann, have now been published on The Rice Portrait Website and makes fascinating reading whether your interest is in the restoration of paintings or in the history of this particularly beautiful portrait. Eva was trained at the Courtauld Institute and France's Institut National du Patrimoine and spent much of 2010 and 11 bringing the painting back to life. I was lucky enough to visit Eva in her studio whilst work was being undertaken, and to see the portrait for myself. You can read about the lovely day I had here

 Eva was able to clean the significant OH symbol that the artist used in many of his works, which is especially pleasing to see - I think there can be no doubt that the portrait was painted by Ozias Humphry.

  There is also a new article on the website about the Austen family's connections with the Humphreys - they were also acquainted with Ozias's younger brother, William and his wife who lived at Seal. Mrs Humphries (sic) wrote to Jane's father to tell him of William Hampson Walter's death in 1798. He was George Austen's half-brother and lived at Seal also. Jane wrote a letter of condolence to her cousin, Philadelphia:

      Steventon Sunday April 8th
    My dear Cousin
        As Cassandra is at present from home, You must accept from my pen, our sincere Condolance on the melancholy Event which Mrs Humphries Letter announced to my Father this morning.——The loss of so kind & affectionate a Parent, must be a very severe affliction to all his Children, to yourself more especially, as your constant residence with him has given you so much the more constant & intimate Knowledge of his Virtues.——But the very circumstance which at present enhances your loss, must gradually reconcile you to it the better;——the Goodness which made him valuable on Earth, will make him Blessed in Heaven.——This consideration must bring comfort to yourself, to my Aunt, & to all his family & friends; & this comfort must be heightened by the consideration of the little Enjoyment he was able to receive from this World for some time past, & of the small degree of pain attending his last hours.——I will not press you to write before you would otherwise feel equal to it, but when you can do it without pain, I hope we shall receive from you as good an account of my Aunt & Yourself, as can be expected in these early days of Sorrow.——
        My Father & Mother join me in every kind wish, & I am my dear Cousin,
                                                     Yours affec:tely
                                                           Jane Austen
    Miss Walter

The Grey House, Seal, thought to be the home of the Walters

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen - edited by Gabrielle Malcolm

I'm thrilled to tell you about this new book edited by Gabrielle Malcolm. I was interviewed for a small section in the book on my sequels and on writing Jane Austen inspired fiction so it's very exciting to see my words in print. I'm so looking forward to reading more-there are many contributions from writers and fans from the world of Jane Austen fan culture!  

Here's the blurb from Amazon - This Fan Phenomena volume will emphasize fan culture surrounding the novels AND the adaptations of Jane Austen. The afterlife of the books themselves has witnessed an explosion of interest in Austen's universe and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath offers an important resource for gauging relative popularity. The volume will focus on aspects of tourism, fandom, viewers, and readership. Articles will cover TV and film adaptations, feminism and Austen fandom, literary and TV spin-offs and sequels among others. Gabriella Macolm is Visiting Research fellow at the Department of English and Language Studies at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her work focuses on 19th Century Studies as well as Popular Culture. Click here to read more about Gabrielle's new book!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Shopping in London with Jane Austen!

The poet Shelley described London’s shops in a letter to Thomas Manning:

‘Oh, the lamps of a night! her rich goldsmiths, print-shops, toy-shops, mercers, hardware men, pastry-cooks, St Paul’s churchyard, the Strand, Exeter Change, Charing Cross, with a man upon a black horse! These are thy gods, O London!’
Most shopkeepers lived with their families above or behind their premises. They were usually specialists in the goods they sold, and very often the craftsman who made them – whether a shoemaker, tailor, hatter, fan-maker, umbrella-maker or jeweller – often there was no distinction between retailer and wholesaler. There were no regular shopping hours – the shopkeeper opened his shop before breakfast and closed it before he retired for the night.
Sophie von la Roche, a German novelist, wrote about Oxford Street to her daughters in 1785:
We strolled up and down lovely Oxford Street this evening, for some goods look more attractive by artificial light. Just imagine, dear children, a street taking half an hour to cover from end to end, with double rows of brightly shining lamps, in the middle of which stands an equally long row of beautifully lacquered coaches, …
Regent Street
 First one passes a watchmaker’s, then a silk or fan store, now a silversmith’s, a china or glass shop. The spirit booths are particularly tempting, for the English are in any case fond of strong drink. Here crystal flasks of every shape and form are exhibited: each one has a light behind it which makes all the different coloured spirits sparkle. … Just as alluring are the confectioners and fruiterers, where, behind the handsome glass windows, pyramids of pineapples, figs, grapes, oranges and all manner of fruits are on show … Most of all, we admired a stall with Argand and other lamps … forming a really dazzling spectacle …
A few weeks later she wrote again: I found another shop here like the one in Paris, containing every possible make of woman’s shoe; there was a woman buying shoes for herself and her small daughter: the latter was searching amongst the doll’s shoes in one case for some to fit the doll she had with her. But the linen shops are the loveliest; every kind of whitewear, from swaddling clothes to shrouds, and any species of linen can be had. Night-caps for ladies and children, trimmed with muslin and various kinds of Brussels lace, more exquisitely stitched than I ever saw before … People, I noticed, like to have their children with them and take them out into the air, and they wrap them up well, though their feet are always bare and sockless … I was glad to strike some of the streets in which the butchers are housed, and interested to find the meat so fine and shops so deliciously clean; all the goods were spread on snow-white cloths, and cloths of similar whiteness were stretched out behind the large hunks of meat hanging up; no blood anywhere, no dirt, the shop walls and doors were all spruce, balance and weights brightly polished.
Whether they are silks, chintzes or muslins, they hang down in folds behind the fine high windows so that the effect of this or that material, as it would be in the ordinary folds of a woman’s dress can be studied. Amongst the muslins all colours are on view, and so one can judge how the frock would look in company with its fellows. Now large shoe and slipper shops for anything from adults down to dolls can be seen – now fashion articles of silver or brass … absolutely everything one can think of is neatly, attractively displayed, and in such abundance of choice as almost to make one greedy …
Writing from her brother Henry's house in Sloane Street, on May 2 1813, Jane wrote: Your letter came just in time to save my going to Remnant's, and fit me for Christian's, where I bought Fanny's dimity. I went the day before (Friday) to Layton's, as I proposed, and got my mother's gown - seven yards at 6s. 6d. I then walked into No. 10, which is all dirt and confusion, but in a very promising way...I gave 2s. 6d. for the dimity. I do not boast of any bargains, but think both the sarsenet and dimity good of their sort. I have bought your locket, but was obliged to give 18s. for it, which must be rather more than you intended. It is neat and plain, set in gold.
In September she was staying in Henrietta Street where her brother Henry had recently moved. Instead of saving my superfluous wealth for you to spend, I am going to treat myself with spending it myself. I hope, at least, that I shall find some poplin at Layton and Shear's that will tempt me to buy it. If I do, it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you; for I depend upon your being so kind as to accept it, being the main point. It will be a great pleasure to me. Don't say a word. I only wish you could choose too. I shall send twenty yards.
In Sense and Sensibility the Dashwood sisters go shopping in Bond Street, though Marianne is distracted, her thoughts are full of Mr Willoughby who she is hoping to see.
   After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat, or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all their acquaintance on Mrs. Jennings's side, and in laughter without cause on Mrs. Palmer's, it was proposed by the latter that they should all accompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, to which Mrs. Jennings and Elinor readily consented, as having likewise some purchases to make themselves; and Marianne, though declining it at first, was induced to go likewise. 
   Wherever they went, she was evidently always on the watch. In Bond Street especially, where much of their business lay, her eyes were in constant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, her mind was equally abstracted from everything actually before them, from all that interested and occupied the others. Restless and dissatisfied every where, her sister could never obtain her opinion of any article of purchase, however it might equally concern them both; she received no pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be at home again, and could with difficulty govern her vexation at the tediousness of Mrs. Palmer, whose eye was caught by everything pretty, expensive, or new; who was wild to buy all, could determine on none, and dawdled away her time in rapture and indecision.

Sackville Street
 Later on they visit Gray's in Sackville Street:
   On ascending the stairs, the Miss Dashwoods found so many people before them in the room, that there was not a person at liberty to attend to their orders; and they were obliged to wait. All that could be done was, to sit down at the end of the counter which seemed to promise the quickest succession; one gentleman only was standing there, and it is probable that Elinor was not without hopes of exciting his politeness to a quicker dispatch. But the correctness of his eye, and the delicacy of his taste, proved to be beyond his politeness. He was giving orders for a toothpick-case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, - all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick-case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, - he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies, than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares; a kind of notice which served to imprint on Elinor the remembrance of a person and face of strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion.

I love reading about descriptions of shopping experiences like those above, especially now the High Streets of Britain seem to be losing their shopping streets bit by bit. It’s wonderful to be able to shop on the internet, but shops here are finding it hard to compete.

However,  Fortnum and Mason, Hatchard’s Bookshop, and Floris the perfumers, amongst others, are still going strong – perhaps because they’ve embraced online shopping too. Jane would have known these shops and I hope they’ll still be here in London for another 200 years or so!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Jane Austen - The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation!

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

In honour of Jane's Birthday on 16th December, the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation are offering donors the chance to write in Jane's birthday card.  Simply make a donation through the form, and you can write in Jane's 'virtual' birthday card, which is published on the website.  

Founded by Caroline Jane Knight, the last descendant of Jane Austen’s family to have been raised in Jane’s beloved Chawton, The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation works to effect positive and significant change to global literacy rates.

End poverty

It’s estimated that if every child in developing and low-income nations acquired basic reading skills, 171 million people would be lifted out of poverty.


Girls and boys deserve equal access to reading, writing and numeracy. “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society” -- Sonia Sotomayor 


Reading and writing are essential skills for those who want to understand, enjoy and influence the world around them


Education is the key to self-improvement and unlocking potential. “Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family” -- Kofi Annan


The simple pleasure of reading a book is universal.…”I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading” -- Jane Austen

Monday, December 1, 2014

A Happy Mr Darcy Advent Calendar!

I just made an online Advent calendar that I hope you will enjoy! Please click on the link  to find some of what inspired me to write Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Chapter One - Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar

Chapter One
Door Number One

It really did look like a Christmas card. The red brick house glowed with yellow light through frosted windowpanes brightening the gloom of the wintry day. Lizzy wrinkled her nose as feathers of snow tickled her face and settled like iced stars on her scarlet beret. It had been a bit of a nightmare to find it: a train, a bus ride, and a twelve-minute walk along snow-covered lanes, but now she considered it had all been worth it. Jane Austen’s house buried in the countryside village of Chawton couldn’t have been more perfect to Lizzy’s eyes. Perhaps deciding to visit the house in the middle of winter hadn’t been her brightest idea, but there was no denying her excitement. Lizzy felt a sense of anticipation, the house looked enchanted as if under a fairy spell, and she half wondered if she might bump into Jane herself at the door.

Finding the entrance at a barn door by the side of the building Lizzy soon realised it was locked, and it occurred to her then that despite all appearances the house might not be open. Looking up, dizzying spirals of snowflakes whirled through the air making her blink, and for the first time she prayed that the snow that was settling in high drifts might stop. Setting off that morning in fine weather Lizzy hadn’t even considered the house might be closed or that there might be a problem getting home. The snow was totally unexpected, and though she loved to see it, Lizzy felt a little anxious now she saw it continue to fall. She wondered if perhaps she should head back along the lane to the bus stop when, to her great surprise, she heard the sound of a door opening.

From the main building opposite the head of a tall man peered round the glass-paned door. ‘Look, we’re really short-staffed. No one’s turned up, and to be honest, I thought no one in their right mind would come today. I assume you’re here to see the house?’

Lizzy nodded. She saw a cross-looking young man in his late twenties with a mane of dark, almost black hair waving back from a face of strong features. She heard a public school accent, confident but with more than a suggestion of arrogance, the kind her father would be terribly impressed by. His dark eyes, to match his unruly curls, were boring into hers as if he hated the very sight of her. Unable to meet them, she was overwhelmed by a sense of rising panic whilst simultaneously thinking she’d never met anyone so rude. He hadn’t even said hello.

‘I’ve come from London,’ said Lizzy. ‘It’s taken me a while to get here, but I suppose if you’re closed, there’s not much I can do.’

‘No, we’re shut. Cassandra’s might give you a cup of tea, I suppose.’

Lizzy had a strange thought he was talking about Jane Austen’s sister for a minute until she remembered that the café across the way shared the same name.

‘No, they’re closed, too,’ she said.

The sign for the café had been a welcome sight on the way as she’d trudged up the road, but she’d known with a sinking heart that it was closed before she’d even reached it. As Lizzy waited for him to speak again, she heard the crunch of footsteps in the snow behind her.

‘I’m here now, Mr Williams, you can get back in the warm. I’ll open up!’ cried a cheerful voice.

Lizzy turned to see a lady with a pleasant face advancing gingerly towards her, picking up her long skirts to avoid getting them wet. Dressed from head to foot in Regency costume she appeared to be totally at home in her clothes, and Lizzy supposed it must be a kind of uniform she wore when showing people round the house.

‘Come in out of the cold, dear. I am sorry I couldn’t have been here sooner, but what with the weather and I know not what to tell you about first, I am in quite a dither this morning. My nerves are apt to plague me, but you’ll forgive me for running on so. Mr Williams would have attended you in any case, I am sure.’

The door opposite resounded with a loud bang as it shut. Mr Williams disappeared.

Lizzy didn’t like to say that the rude man had told her to go home, and decided to say nothing. In a way, she hoped he might see her and she felt a certain satisfaction in knowing that she’d got what she wanted, after all. Following the lady into the barn, Lizzy blinked as the bright strip lights were flicked on in the shop.

‘Do make yourself at home, dear. I’ll just make sure everything is in order in the main house so have a look round at your leisure. My youngest daughter was here yesterday, and though a delightful companion, she is inclined to be untidy. I daresay the dining room table will be littered with bonnets and ribbon, but that’s my Lydia – never happier than when she’s pulling apart a hat and making it her own.’

She reminded Lizzy of Mrs Bennet especially when she laughed like a young girl, her curls trembling as she disappeared through a door at the end. Lizzy suppressed a desire to giggle, and wondered how the lady managed to keep up her way of talking, as if she’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.

Lizzy looked around at the wealth of books and gifts in the shop, most of which she longed to own. The shelves were lined with the books Jane Austen had written and revised in the very house she was about to see, and there were mugs and bags, bookmarks and fridge magnets to tempt the pennies out of her purse. On the counter was a pile of Advent calendars with a scene like the one she’d witnessed earlier. A painting of Jane’s house in the snow was sprinkled with twenty four windows to be opened during the festive season, some of which lay exactly over the place where the real windows were situated, over the doors, or were hidden in the snow-clad trees and sky. Lizzy was just making up her mind to treat herself to one when the lady came back.

‘Oh, my dear, you’ve made an excellent choice, and one you won’t regret, I’m sure,’ she said, and as Lizzy took out her purse to pay for it, the lady added, ‘Don’t trouble yourself about paying for it now. There’s time enough to do that later. Now, if you’ll just go into the changing room, you’ll find it all much more enjoyable if you put on your costume first.’

Before she could ask any questions the door was opened for her, and when Lizzy stepped inside the small cubicle she found a day dress and scarlet pelisse hanging up, along with a plain chemise, half-boots, and a fur trimmed bonnet with green satin ribbons. She’d always wanted to try on a Regency costume, and this one looked so authentic that she thought it would be fun to wear. Lizzy was soon dressed, the outfit was quite easy to wear and more comfortable than she’d thought it might be, fitting her to perfection, as if it had been made with her in mind. A glance across at the looking glass showed an image of a young woman she hardly recognised looking quite wide-eyed with astonishment.

When Lizzy emerged rather cautiously, the lady clapped her hands. ‘Oh, my dear, you look better than I dreamed possible. Scarlet is very becoming on you, and the green ribbon brings out your hazel eyes. Now, don’t forget your calendar. Please take it with you, and, as it’s December the first today, you should make haste, and open number one!’

 Encouraged by the lady’s enthusiasm Lizzy carefully tore round the perforated edge of the window and peeled it back. She’d never grown out of the childish excitement of having an Advent calendar, and this was extra special. Behind a beautiful gothic window the picture gave a glimpse of the room itself. There on a chaise longue lay a pink satin bonnet.

‘That means you must go to the drawing room first,’ said the lady. ‘Look for the signs and you’ll soon find it.’

 Lizzy picked up her bag, and clutching the calendar set off around the back of the house following the path until she came to a white door. The thought that this was a doorway through which Jane had passed many times was thrilling, and turning the handle she crossed the threshold with a reverent step.

‘Lord, is that you, Kitty?’ came a shrill voice. ‘I thought you were never coming home!’

The room Lizzy entered was strewn with ribbons and lace, yards of satin and silk flowers covering every surface and tumbling onto the floor. A young girl seated on the chaise longue looked up expectantly.

‘Oh! I thought you were Kitty, but I suppose you must be here for one of my sisters, though I have to say you look as if you’ve just stepped out of my mother’s monthly magazine, and are not at all the sort of plain girl they usually keep for company.’

Apart from being completely taken aback at the sight and manner of the girl who looked just like an image from an illustrated edition of Jane Austen’s novels, Lizzy couldn’t think what she was talking about.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Lizzy began, ‘but I was told to come here.’

‘And I expect that person was a round plump lady who talks too much and quivers like a jelly not quite set. My mother! Lord knows she cannot help herself, but she will interfere. You’re not the first and I daresay you will not be the last. However, do not be alarmed. I am delighted you are here. You can help me trim this wretched bonnet. I cannot do a thing with it! Tell me, what do you think of this ribbon?’

Before Lizzy managed to speak the young girl spoke again. ‘Are you here for Jane or Elizabeth? I expect they’re closeted away somewhere telling their secrets to one another. I am not interested in their dull tales. Anyway, I have a secret of my own. I shall tell you if you like.’

Based on what she’d seen so far of her companion, Lizzy decided she wouldn’t be required to say much at all but something told her to be on her guard. ‘I don’t think…’

‘Good, I knew you would want to hear it. I know Miss Austen doesn’t like it when we peep, but I cannot help wanting to know what will happen next. All I wished for is to have our dreary cousin taken away, but I know there is much better in store. I’ve seen the very manuscript she’s working on!’

‘Miss Austen?’

‘Of course Miss Austen! Miss Jane Austen, the one who owns this very house. At least, her brother Edward really owns it but Miss Jane and her sister Miss Cassandra live here with their mother.’

‘Miss Jane Austen is here in this house?’ asked Lizzy, hardly able to believe her ears.

‘Yes, of course, she’s in the next room where she sits scribbling on her little pieces of paper about us all. I should be vexed for it has to be said she can be very unkind about me, but she has promised to send me to Brighton, so she’s not all bad, by any means. I heard her say it out loud, and I cannot wait!’

Lizzy was sure her suspicions were correct. She’d visited houses and museums in the past where actors were employed to play the parts of historical figures, but she’d never seen anything quite so real or convincing. The girl who was clearly brilliant at role-playing must be acting the part of Lydia Bennet, and the lady in the shop was performing very convincingly as her mother, Mrs Bennet. It all made sense now.

‘Do you think I could see Miss Austen?’ Lizzy asked. Lydia looked doubtful. ‘She may see you, but then again, she may not like to be disturbed. Miss Austen keeps the door hinges deliberately unoiled, so she can hear the door squeaking when she is about to be intruded upon. You will soon find out if you go beyond the door.’

Lizzy followed Lydia’s pointing finger to the door ahead, which was firmly closed. ‘Do you think I should? I wouldn’t like to interrupt her if she’s writing.’

‘Only you can decide what is best. If you take a leaf from my book, nothing ever stops me from pursuing the wishes of my heart.’

Lizzy was most undecided, especially when she considered that it might not be wise to take advice from Lydia Bennet. But, surely this was all part of the exhibition, and she was being guided, even invited to go through the door. And if she didn’t hurry, time would run out, and she would have to go home. Pinned to the door was a piece of card with a number two engraved in silver upon its cream-coloured surface. On closer inspection she read the words, An Invitation to the Ball, written in a flowing script.

 © Jane Odiwe

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mr Darcy's YouTube Christmas Calendar!

I love making these trailers - it's just a short one, but I couldn't resist, and the snowstorm features in my book! Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar is now up on Amazon and available for pre-order. There'll be a launch party on November 4th on Austen Variations with lots of prizes! Please join me for some chocolate goodies and more!
I'll be on Austen Variations on Wednesday October 29th with chapter two - if you'd like to read chapter one, please click here! I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds Book Launch!

It's Mrs Darcy's Diamonds Book Launch today. Come over to Austen Variations where I'm giving away prizes - books and jewellery - in celebration!

Here's an excerpt from the novella-I hope you enjoy it!

Elizabeth’s view through the window beyond her looking glass was a scene from a picture book. Even on the greyest day in December, she thought she’d never seen anything quite to rival its beauty. Today in the sunshine, the copses to the east shimmered like veils of hazy blue gossamer, casting long shadows upon the golden hillsides. The Pemberley estate stretched endlessly before her, and there in the very middle of this rustic panorama she watched a horseman gallop into the distance. She would have recognised Fitzwilliam, had he been a dot on the horizon. He cut such a handsome and athletic figure, urging the horse on across the fields. Riding out with him was one of her greatest joys but today Mr Darcy was engaged on estate business, something she was getting used to after their wonderful honeymoon together where he’d indulged her every whim.
There was a knock at the door.
‘Come in, Rebecca.’
Without knowing she did it, a small sigh escaped Elizabeth’s lips. She knew her maid was ready to dress her hair, and after that, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would be ready to receive her.

Hurrying down the staircase, Lizzy patted her hair and smoothed down her gown, quickly checking her appearance in the glass on the landing before meeting Lady Catherine. She did want to make a good impression. Pausing to tuck a wayward curl behind her ear, she hardly recognised her reflection, she’d become such a grand lady in the few short weeks she’d been married. Her expensive clothes were elegant and stylish, and even her coiffure, styled so expertly by her new lady’s maid, seemed to lend her an air of distinction. But despite these outward embellishments, Elizabeth felt no more self-assured than when she’d first arrived at Pemberley. Not that she suffered any real crisis of confidence, she’d always had a sense of her own self-worth, but it was just that she longed to be a credit to the great man she had married. Lizzy knew she was out of her depth when it came to the task of running a great house like the one she was now mistress of, but with the help of Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper, she was trying to learn all that she could. Knowing that Mr Darcy’s aunt was always very critical did nothing to improve her feelings, and it was with some trepidation that she rushed along the corridor. It simply would not do to be late!
When she walked into the saloon, Lady Catherine was already seated in a chair by the window, looking out over the landscape.
‘Good morning, Lady Catherine,’ Elizabeth said on entering, dropping a curtsey.
Lady Catherine continued to gaze through the window and for a moment Elizabeth wondered if she’d been heard. Fitzwilliam’s aunt had assumed a regal attitude and now turned so imperiously to look down her long nose as if she’d been intruded upon that Lizzy felt quite intimidated, until she realised that the old lady was doing her very best to make her feel uncomfortable in her own home.
‘Sit down,’ Lady Catherine barked, gesturing to the seat opposite.
Undaunted, Elizabeth’s courage rose and sitting down, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves, choosing to ignore the old lady’s rude manner. ‘We are so delighted that you accepted our invitation and to see you here at Pemberley. We were worried that you might not be able to attend the ball after you wrote about your late illness - I do hope you are very much recovered.’
‘Pemberley has been my home for more years than you’ve been alive, madam, and you need not think because you now consider yourself châtelaine that your influence holds any sway. I have never been subject to an invitation here in my life before - I shudder to imagine what my dear sister would have thought at such impertinence.’
‘Mr Darcy was very particular with the arrangements, Lady Catherine. We wish you a most happy visit … I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction,’ Lizzy continued, aware that her patience was being tried beyond her limit.
‘As for my rooms, Reynolds has been so good as to move me to Lady Anne’s apartments.’
Elizabeth stared at the implacable woman before her. She could not imagine a worse beginning but she was determined not to let Lady Catherine get the better of her. ‘Forgive me, your ladyship, but we were led to understand that your preference was for the west wing, and that you did not usually wish to reside in your sister’s chambers because of the morning sun on that side of the house. As for the invitation, Mr Darcy considered it would be most fitting in light of the fact that we are newly married and the ball is a celebration of our union. It will be the first of many that he wishes to hold, and we hope you will bless us with your presence at every one.’
As she said the words, looking with steely determination into Lady Catherine’s eyes, Lizzy found herself crossing the fingers that were laced in her lap. She noted with some pleasure that Fitzwilliam’s formidable aunt looked at a loss for words, but knew it was only a matter of time before another barbed comment would be aimed in her direction.
‘A seasonal ball is held annually at Pemberley - your marriage and its timing is a mere coincidence. One can only hope that you have taken Reynolds’ advice in every matter. Of course, in my sister’s day the balls were unsurpassed in the country. How this great house has fallen in the wake of her demise - I fear for its future, I will not pretend.’
‘Lady Catherine, I assure you that I will do my very best to fulfil the role that is my privilege to have been bestowed upon me by my dear husband. I am honoured to bear the name of Darcy and hope to do my husband proud.’
Lizzy felt Lady Catherine’s eyes upon her once more and was subject to such scrutiny that she felt herself redden and shift uncomfortably in her chair. The lady wore a frown, her eyes narrowing as she stared at Elizabeth’s fingers laced in her lap.
‘Give me your hand, at once. I believe that ring belongs to my sister!’
Instinctively, Lizzy covered the finger wearing her new diamond with the fingers of her right hand.
‘Put out your hand, this instant, and let me see. There has been a grave oversight, I am certain. This jewel, which you have no right to wear, is one of a suite that was given to my sister on her marriage. They were promised to my daughter on her marriage and until that day were to remain in the vault. How on earth did you come by it?’
Elizabeth kept her hands in her lap, and tried to remain calm. ‘I think you must be mistaken, Lady Catherine. Mr Darcy bestowed this ring upon me himself. As they belong to a suite of jewels, which he refers to as the Darcy diamonds, passed down by the heir to every Darcy spouse, I fail to understand you.’
‘You fail to understand me?’ The lady was shaking now, her earrings dangling from fleshy lobes tinkled like miniature chandeliers.
She really didn’t want to have an altercation with Darcy’s aunt, but she was being tried to her very limit. Lizzy opened her mouth to speak again, but a knock at the door and the entrance of Mrs Reynolds prevented her from answering.
‘What is it, Reynolds?’ demanded Lady Catherine crossly, before Lizzy had a chance to speak.
‘I am very sorry to intrude, your ladyship, but I have a message for Mrs Darcy. It’s from the home farm, madam - it’s urgent, I’m afraid. Mrs Fretwell said if you could spare the time, that she’d be ever so grateful. He’s near the end, you see, and she says he’s been calling for you.’
‘I’ll come straight away, Mrs Reynolds. Be so good as to tell Saxton to get the carriage ready - I’ll be there as soon as I can.’
‘Where are you going? I demand an explanation!’

Elizabeth had no intention of telling Lady Catherine where she was bound, and as she observed the old woman’s thunderous countenance, her jowls wobbling in indignation, she attempted to placate her. ‘There is no time, Lady Catherine. Forgive me, but I have to go!’

Friday, August 22, 2014

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds - A New Novella!

I'm very excited to announce the upcoming publication of a new book - Mrs Darcy's Diamonds, the first novella in a new series (Jane Austen Jewel Box) all inspired by pieces of jewellery.
Mrs Darcy's Diamonds is available for pre-order on Amazon and is being released on Tuesday, September 2nd. I will be launching my book on Austen Variations and there will be prizes to win, so please join me on my special day.
The next novella in the series will be Miss Darcy's Parisian Pin, and I hope to have that ready for publication in Spring 2015. 

Mrs Darcy's Diamonds

Elizabeth is newly married to Fitzwilliam Darcy, the richest man in Derbyshire, landowner of a vast estate, and master of Pemberley House. Her new role is daunting at first, and having to deal with Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is a daily challenge. But, Elizabeth is deeply in love and determined to rise to every test and trial she is forced to endure. When her husband presents her with a diamond ring, part of the precious and irreplaceable Darcy suite of jewels, she feels not only honoured and secure in her husband’s love, but also ready to accept her new responsibilities and position.

Elizabeth knows she will face exacting scrutiny at the approaching Christmas Ball, but it will be her chance to prove that she is a worthy mistress, and she is excited to be playing hostess to the Bennets, the Bingleys, and the gentry families of Derbyshire, as well as Mr Darcy’s French cousins. Antoine de Valois and his sister Louise have arrived at the invitation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Elizabeth is delighted that this young and lively couple are helping to bring Miss Georgiana Darcy out of her shell. However, when her ring goes missing before the ball, Elizabeth is distraught, and her dilemma further increased by the threat of a scandal that appears to involve the French cousins. 

I first started writing this book on Austen Variations as Elizabeth Darcy's Ring, but realised I needed to spend some time polishing and refining the story for publication. I've loved writing another sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and though the story examines Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship after their marriage, it is also Georgiana's tale. When two distantly related cousins arrive at Pemberley for the Christmas ball, Miss Darcy finds herself attracted to the handsome brother, Antoine.
Here's a little extract:

Mrs Reynolds gave Miss Georgiana Darcy the message her mistress had left as the latter was crossing the hallway after her morning ride. A striking girl, and tall for her tender years, her appearance was of an assured young woman, belying her true timidity and shy character. Her deep blue riding habit made the perfect foil for her fair hair, which was now tumbling in unruly curls from the top of her head, a result of the fresh breezes and a gallop across the fields combined.
Mr Darcy’s sister felt unequal to the duty, but put on her bravest expression. If Elizabeth trusted her to be left in sole charge of Pemberley in her absence, then she would do her very best.
‘Most guests will be arriving this afternoon, Miss Darcy, so I would not worry too much,’ said Mrs Reynolds reassuringly. ‘Mr and Mrs Darcy will be back by then - they’ll be here to greet their guests, I am certain.’
‘Oh, thank you, Mrs Reynolds,’ Georgiana replied, her voice betraying her nerves. ‘I must admit, I do not relish the idea of meeting our guests completely on my own, and without Elizabeth or Mrs Annesley, I am sure I should not know what to say to put them at their ease.’
‘Well, I am sure you would not deny Mrs Annesley some time visiting her family for Christmas. She would not have left you if she didn’t think you were making such great strides in confidence.’
‘Mrs Annesley has been such a wonderful companion, Mrs Reynolds, and I know it will do me good to learn to stand on my own two feet. And I am so lucky to have Mrs Darcy, too.’
‘I may be talking out of turn, Miss Darcy, but it was a very fortunate day when your brother met his spouse and brought her home to Derbyshire. Mrs Darcy has made such a wonderful addition to Pemberley; everyone has taken her to their hearts. 
‘Oh, she has indeed, Mrs Reynolds, and I’m so overjoyed to hear you echo my very thoughts. My sister has such a way with people and I am learning all the time. Yet, although she has already taught me so much, I feel quite nervous at the prospect of introductions without her by my side. There are so many new people to be met with, and I shall be completely confused by so many names I have not heard before.’
‘Do not fret, Miss Darcy,’ said Mrs Reynolds, placing a hand on Georgiana’s arm. ‘I shall be there, and your aunt will, no doubt, offer her advice. Lady Catherine is in the saloon at this moment.’
Georgiana wanted to smile. She’d not missed Mrs Reynolds’ tone of voice when talking of her aunt, and although the stalwart retainer had uttered nothing untoward, Georgiana knew Mrs Reynolds disliked Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Reynolds was often on the receiving end of her ladyship’s ‘advice’ and despite Mrs Reynolds’ cheerful countenance on each occasion of having been scolded, it had not gone unnoticed by most of the family that the housekeeper enjoyed her own ways with words to soften the verbal blows.
‘Then I’d best join her,’ said Georgiana, ‘as soon as I have changed. Goodness, what a mess! My skirts are covered three inches in mud, but what fun I’ve had. I went the same way Elizabeth showed me yesterday. It’s a challenging ride, but once in my stride I felt I was flying. And I really must fix my hair or goodness knows what my aunt will have to say. It’s quite fallen down, but such freedom is pure joy!’
Just at that moment, the butler, Bramwell, appeared at the top of the steps leading from the front doors. Behind him stood two of the most elegant people Georgiana thought she’d ever seen. There was an air about them and a celebration of fashion not usually seen in the Derbyshire countryside. They exuded sophistication and more than a touch of the exotic. The dark-haired gentleman who was appraising Georgiana’s appearance with an expression of mild amusement wore a long cape over a navy coat, cut away to show his fine muscular legs in mustard breeches. He did not look like an Englishman with his olive complexion and black eyes that stared at Georgiana for so long and so searchingly, that she found she was soon studying the floor with great interest. His lady wore a pelisse of peacock blue with gold fastenings, trimmed at the throat in black velvet, and a contrasting bonnet in white satin with a jaunty ostrich feather.
‘Monsieur and Mademoiselle de Valois, Miss Darcy,’ Bramwell announced.
Good heavens, thought Georgiana, they’re French, and I am certain my conversation in that language is severely limited.
‘Bonjour, Monsieur et Mademoiselle de Valois,’ Georgiana stuttered, remembering to curtsey.
‘Good morning, Miss Darcy,’ said the gentleman in reply. ‘I assure you; it is not necessary to speak in French. We never have unless with our papa and he is buried these last four years.’
Georgiana met the easy expression of the young man standing before her holding out his hand. She took it, not knowing whether she should also offer condolences.
‘We have never met before,’ he continued, ‘but I am your distant cousin, Antoine, and this is my sister, Louise. I am afraid we are rather early to be met by the family. Forgive me, but our journey here was rather shorter than we’d anticipated. We came to the north from London the day before yesterday, and have been travelling round the countryside, but I could not wait to see Pemberley nor meet my relations.’
His companion held out her hand. ‘My brother is so very eager in everything, Miss Darcy, and though I insisted we would be better leaving our inn later this afternoon, he would not listen. I am very pleased to meet you. We have heard so much about you from our mother who corresponds regularly with your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Our mother and your aunt grew up together … they are cousins on their mother’s side.’
It was impossible to feel ill at ease with this brother and sister who were so open and friendly that she stopped worrying about her appearance and almost forgot to be shy. Georgiana could not think that she’d heard of these French cousins before, or ever heard her aunt mention their name, but she shook hands warmly.
‘I do apologise that my brother is not here to greet you, but he is out on business this morning. He is not expected to be long and I know he will be looking forward to making your acquaintance so much. Do come in and make yourselves at home. I am sure my aunt will be so glad to hear you’ve arrived … I will take you to see her at once.’
  Mrs Reynolds immediately saw Georgiana’s hesitation and took charge. ‘Miss Georgiana, if I may be so bold, might I suggest that I show our guests to their rooms so they can settle in. I am certain Lady Catherine can wait a little longer to be united with her family … I believe Miss Anne de Bourgh and Mrs Jenkinson are expected from Scotland within the hour and her ladyship will be much taken up with them and other matters.’
Georgiana heard the wise housekeeper’s words with relief and knew that the kind lady was thinking of her. She knew her state of dress and unruly hair would be the subject of much unwanted attention and disapproval from her aunt, leading to many questions she would not wish to answer. If Lady Catherine discovered she’d been out riding by herself, there would be trouble. She smiled to herself at the thought - goodness, how much things had changed since darling Lizzy had come to Pemberley. Not that she was very sure her new sister or her brother would be so pleased that she’d gone riding by herself, but filled with a sense of confidence returning, an assurance such as she’d enjoyed in former years, she’d followed her feelings. It was so long since she’d listened to her heart, and when the sparkling, crisp morning had beckoned with the idea of a ride across the fields, she’d given in to temptation.
‘Mrs Reynolds, what a perfectly splendid idea,’ said Antoine, turning to beam at his sister. ‘I would not like to disturb my cousin at this hour … we will meet at a more convivial time.’
His sister caught Georgiana’s eye and smirked. ‘Not to mention the fact that our cousin would be scandalised by our early arrival. Thank you, Mrs Reynolds, I know our late invitation must have caused you some extra work, but Lady Catherine insisted, as soon as she discovered how close we were to Pemberley. And your brother is so kind, Miss Darcy - such a generous gentleman in accepting us as if it had been his very own idea. We received a letter from him just this very morning.’
It was plain to see that Mrs Reynolds had taken to the young couple immediately. ‘There can never be too many young people at Pemberley, Miss de Valois, and there are rooms enough for many more. I’ve known Mr Darcy since he was a small boy and generosity is his middle name, if you understand me. Come along now, if you please, we’ll soon have you comfortable.’
Georgiana watched them ascend the staircase followed by Bramwell and the footman laden with luggage. She wasn’t quite sure whether she’d imagined it, but when they reached the top and before they turned off along the corridor, she saw Antoine turn to look back down at her. It was as if he’d known she’d be staring after him and she felt her countenance suffuse with crimson at his discovery, as he winked knowingly before disappearing from sight.

I hope you enjoyed it and that you'll join me on launch day at Austen Variations! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Project Darcy, a green slope, and Steventon Rectory!

Jane Austen with her father George
Some years ago, I painted a little picture of how I imagined Jane and her father would look when she was about five years old. I thought about this painting whilst I was writing a little scene in Project Darcy when Ellie goes back into the past and becomes Jane Austen, and tied it in with what seem to be Jane’s own recollections that she wrote about in Northanger Abbey. Although she is writing about Catherine Morland when she says her heroine was ‘noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house’, I have a feeling she was referring to a memory of doing that herself. If you’ve ever been to Steventon to see the site where the rectory stood, the back of the garden has a pronounced slope! Here’s how I imagine Jane and her beloved brother Henry playing at the back of the rectory. I hope you enjoy this little excerpt from my latest novel, Project Darcy.

The green slope at the back of Steventon Rectory

The moment she stepped through the hedges and trees that screened the fields, Ellie knew something was different – her world was changed in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Like the little girl in Alice in Wonderland, she’d grown smaller and everything around her had doubled in size. Trees were so tall she could not see the top of them and the grass that tickled her bare legs nearly came up to her knees. Ellie looked back towards the way she had come but she knew it was fruitless. There was only one way to go, and that was to follow the sound that beckoned her. It was as if she saw everything through mist, layers of white vapour that rose to reveal a reality that became sharper with every passing minute. She was no longer Ellie Bentley; that she knew. She was a child, perhaps no more than five years old, and her thoughts intruded until Ellie had none left of her own. Her world was larger, more defined, sounds and smells were fresher, brighter and vivid. More than that, she felt different. Ellie saw life through the eyes of someone else, and when she heard the boy’s voice calling her name she knew him to be her brother.

Site of Steventon Rectory
‘Come on, Jane, let us go again!’
Henry pulled me up the slope to the top of the field where the elm trees stood like sentinels and whispered over our heads in their hushing, leaf language. The day was hot like the one I’d left behind, and my legs struggled to keep up with him in the heat. He sensed that my small legs were tiring and he turned to wait, looking at me with a grin. Light flickered in his hazel eyes, those that I knew grown-ups said were so like mine, but his were almost golden on this day, like Baltic amber. The grass up at the top of the terrace was so long; it prickled the back of my legs. Beads of dew, like fairy necklaces strung along green blades, felt cold under my feet. When we reached the top, he showed me how to lie down in line with the trees, my toes pointing one way and my arms stretched over my head.
‘Jane, wait until I count to three,’ I heard him say.
Lying in the sweetly fragrant meadow, I felt so excited I started to giggle, and my body fidgeted in response. And before he’d managed to shout out the number three, I’d started going, rolling down the hill, and gathering momentum until the world was spinning. There was a blur of blue sky; then green fields, and then over I went again like a flyer on Nanny Littleworth’s spinning wheel. I could see Henry overtake me, going faster than ever. He got to the bottom before me but I came to a standstill at last, my heart beating with pure pleasure as I lay in the grass chuckling and laughing. There were grass stains on my dress and daisies in my hair, which Henry picked out, one by one.
Sitting up, I could see a house that I knew was my home and I had a sudden longing to see my father.
‘Are you not coming up again, little Jenny?’ Henry asked, calling me by the pet name my family used when they wanted to appeal to my better nature. He had his hands in the pockets of his breeches. His shirt was crumpled and stained like my gown. Brown curls flopped over his eyes, which looked into mine so tenderly that I almost changed my mind. I ran to hug him, stood on my tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek. Henry was my protector, and my beloved playmate. I longed to be just like him but my mother scolded me when I behaved too much like a tomboy. I knew I should not run or jump or shout, as my brothers did, but nothing she said would deter me, so when Henry begged me to play with him I did not usually need to be asked twice. But, as much as I wanted to be with him, home was calling.
I shook my head and muttered, ‘I’m going to see Papa.’

Site of Jane Austen's home, Steventon Rectory
I have vivid memories of rolling down the slope in the park at the back of my childhood home with my brother and sister, which was a thing we all loved to do. I remember one time when we were recovering from German Measles, and the grass made our rashes flare up again, all very prickly and itchy - but we were all so glad to be outside again. Most of my childhood seemed to be spent outdoors playing, or indoors drawing and writing if the weather was bad - I’d love to know what pastimes you enjoyed as a child!