Monday, 19 December 2011

An early Christmas present and a sneak peek at 2012...

The paperback edition of Brief Encounters is now available from Amazon and other on-line retailers.  Full details are still appearing on Amazon as I type, but check out this gorgeous new cover (which will feature on the e-book too)!

Nell, Phillipa and I hope you'll enjoy these six short, sweet, sexy tales - described by Christina Jones as 'a fabulous literary box of chocolates, with something for everyone to enjoy'.

This will probably be my last blog post before the festive season commences in earnest and I have to run around like a crazy person getting everything sorted, so I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and happy and healthy 2012!

And for a sneak peek at what's coming next year, look out for two new releases from me - Unexpected Pleasure and A Bright Particular Star...  More details to follow ;0)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Return of Garrow's Law

Hurrah - dust off the periwigs and the silks, the wonderful BBC TV series Garrow's Law returns for a third series this Sunday at 9pm!

The legal drama is inspired by the life of the pioneering 18th century barrister William Garrow.  Episode 1 of Series 3 focuses on the true story of James Hadfield, accused of attempting to assassinate King George III. Garrow risks his reputation to defend the indefensible.  And he changes British law forever.

 Meanwhile, William and his beloved Lady Sarah are finally living together but things are not all rosy.  Lady Sarah is desperate to see her baby son and starts a legal challenge to her jealous husband, Sir Arthur Hill.

William Garrow is played by Andrew Buchan, John Southouse by Alun Armstrong, Lady Sarah by Lyndsey Marshal, Sir Arthur Hill by Rupert Graves and John Silvester by Aidan McArdle.

You can find out more on the BBC website for Garrow's Law (including the real cases behind episode 1) and at Mark Pallis' blog.  Mark is the Legal and Historical consultant for the show.   There is also The Garrow Society website, which has information on Garrow's trials, family stories and web links.

Here's a fabulous taster for Series 3, but beware, spoilers ahoy ;0)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Guest author - Hazel Osmond

A very warm welcome to my blog for guest author Hazel Osmond, who writes contemporary romantic comedy.  Hazel's fabulous debut novel - Who's Afraid of Mr. Wolfe? - is available now from Amazon and many other outlets and she's currently working on her second book, The Genuine Article.

Here Hazel gives her view on that most elusive and inexplicable entity, a writer's 'voice'....

You write funny….

Many thanks to Elizabeth for giving me the opportunity to write this piece – it’s been brewing away in my brain for a while and concerns what I feel is one of the mysteries of writing: where does the writer get her voice?

It’s a question that intrigues me because up until five years ago, I wasn’t listening to what now appears to be my writing voice, but trying to summon one up based on what I believed I should be writing. I put it down to ‘doing’ an English degree and to equating ‘being serious’ with ‘being taken seriously’.

It will not surprise you to learn that the pressure to write something weighty and profound resulted in a blank mind and a computer screen to match. Soon the only writing I was doing was advertising copywriting– nothing wrong with that and I will always be grateful that advertising taught me the importance of being entertaining, brief and direct… but where was that book I was going to write?

It took Richard Armitage, the actor, and the discovery of fanfiction to wake me up and show me that my voice was romantic and funny, and to convince me that making people laugh is not a barrier to making them cry a few pages later.

If I hadn’t been wearing intellectual blinkers, I would have picked up on the clues earlier. I might have realised that there was a reason why I day-dreamed love stories from an early age and continue to do so even when, and I say this at the risk of the curse of smugness shrivelling my vitals, I have been happily settled with the same man for A. Long. Time.

And the humour thing? Well, did I go for The Famous Five when I was little? No, and sorry to those of you who love those stories, but I much preferred the Just William books …and later, when my sister let me read her copies of Monica Dickens’ One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet I remember feeling as if I’d stumbled on someone who was completely tuned into how I saw life. By the time I discovered Dorothy Parker you might have thought my reaction to her would have told me something.

For all my short-sightedness, I suppose that somewhere deep down I was learning an important message: Richmal Crompton and Monica Dickens and Dorothy Parker had an absolute right to be funny even if, between the three of them, they did not possess one willy.

Of course it wasn’t all about women… during my teens I also had the great good fortune to need a lot of dental work. This of itself may be a funny thing to say, but what did all those hours at the dentist’s mean? Access to piles of Punch and writers as wonderful as Alan Coren.

So there we have it, my voice was in there all along but I wasn’t letting it out. I’m not saying it’s a better, more insightful voice than a serious one, but it’s true to my take on life – that humour, used properly, is a great leveller, comforter and humaniser. To write a book without it, or even a short story, just feels like I’m wearing someone else’s shoes. And they pinch.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Nell Dixon's new release is available now

While promoting the Kindle release of The Paradise Will and waiting for updates on other fronts, I'm busy sketching out ideas for a new story.  Once the original idea has ignited, I find my characters and plot need time to take shape, and then evolve.   Try and rush the process and it doesn't work.  It all has to make some sense in my head before I can start writing.  I make notes, decide on character names, do some reseach (a great way to procrastinate *g*) and I might even get the opening line sorted.  Sometimes I'll use visual prompts (currently a photo of a house, torn out of a magazine and stuck to the wall above my PC!).  It all feeds into a creative melting-pot which will hopefully churn out a first draft down the line.  We shall see ;0)

Meanwhile, it's a pleasure to announce that my author buddy and all-around lovely person Nell Dixon is launching a new book.   I can't wait to read it!  Here's more details and an excerpt to whet your appetite:-

Renovation, Renovation, Renovation is the new release from multi award winning author, Nell Dixon. 

Overworked, over budget and just so not over him! Kate would like an engagement ring from Steve but instead he's lumbered them with a thirteenth renovation project, and doing up Myrtle Cottage disturbs a ghost from the English Civil War who has romance troubles of her own.

Available from Amazon UK and 

Renovation, Renovation, Renovation is a contemporary romance with a twist. One of the residents at Myrtle Cottage, a fifteenth century house is a rather mournful ghost called Mary Ann. She was resident during a turbulent period of English history when Oliver Cromwell was coming to power and civil war raged throughout the country. Mary Ann’s story becomes entwined with that of Kate, the current owner bringing glimpses of the past into the present.


“Hey, Kate, can you get me the torch from the kitchen?” Steve’s voice was muffled but excited.

I went and collected the torch from the junk drawer and passed it to him. “What have you found?”

He’d pulled a crate into the fireplace and balanced on it, shining the torch into the flue. Knowing my luck he’d happened on some protected species of bat and we’d have to abandon the whole project or live in the Hammer house of horrors for evermore. I could hear him scrabbling around.

“This is so great.”

“What?” My curiosity was piqued in spite of myself. Maybe he’d found treasure – some previous owners nest egg of sovereigns perhaps?

Decorated with yet more dust and soot, he emerged from the fireplace clasping a small dirty brown object in his hand.

“I never thought we’d be lucky enough to find one of these. I’ve heard about them but never, ever thought I’d find one.” An excited grin split his face and he looked like a small boy who had just been given the world’s biggest treat.

He held the object out towards me almost reverently. “It was on a ledge, quite high up inside the chimney.”

As I looked more closely I could see that what he’d found appeared to be a child’s shoe. Much worn and filthy dirty from its time in the chimney. I failed to see why Steve was so excited.

“You do know what this is, don’t you Kate?” Steve touched it carefully with the forefinger of his other hand. Again a cool movement of air swirled around my feet and ankles.

“It’s a shoe.”

“It’s a spirit trap.”

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Mark your diaries...

...The Kindle edition of The Paradise Will is published on 30th September!

It's been a while coming so thanks to everyone for being patient; I know how frustrating it was to be unable to get hold of a copy because the print run had sold out. 

The Paradise Will was my debut novel and a finalist for the RNA Joan Hessayon award.   I loved writing it and adored each and every one of the characters (well, almost ... one character is better described as - er - interesting rather than adorable ;0) ) and am looking forward to re-visiting it via the shiny new Kindle I had for my birthday :-)

You can pre-order from Amazon UK and  Other formats available very soon. 

Hope y'all enjoy!

Friday, 26 August 2011

More News on The Age of the Regency

For all fellow Regency-ites out there, here's more details on BBC4's upcoming series to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Regency, Elegance and Decadence: The Age of the Regency.

The first episode will air at 9pm on BBC4 on Monday 29th August.  Further details on the content of episode one (and two) can be found here on the BBC web-site.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page for a short programme trailer :0)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency

At last!  A BBC programme about the Regency era!

Thank goodness...we've had so many about the Victorians, I was ready to toss my corset across the room in disgust *g*   Seriously, I like the Victorian era but it's been done to death by Auntie Beeb in recent times and it's therefore an absolute treat to get a three-part series about my favourite period, the Regency.

Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency airs soon on BBC4.   I'm not sure of the exact transmission date, but as trailers are already appearing, I'm guessing in the next two to three weeks.  It will be presented by the delightfully warm and enthusiastic Dr. Lucy Worsley (above), who recently appeared on another BBC4 history programme,  If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home. 

The three episodes look set to cover the Prince Regent himself, great events of the era, famous artists, architecture - including Brighton Pavilion - the middle classes and a little bit of Jane Austen.  It will conclude with the Peterloo massacre, industrialisation and Royal divorce.

There's a few more details on Lucy Worsley's blog and at the BBC Press Office, but I'll post more information on here about transmission dates and content as and when it appears so keep checking back :0)

caricature of George, Prince of Wales from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 4 July 2011

Fake or Fortune?

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould
There's an excellent series currently running on BBC called 'Fake or Fortune', in which presenter Fiona Bruce teams up with art dealer and Antiques Roadshow expert Philip Mould to investigate mysteries behind paintings.

Through a combination of sleuthing and scientific testing, the Fake or Fortune team try to prove the authenticity or otherwise of the featured paintings.  One astonishing fact to emerge from the series is that it is estimated that between 20-40% of works of art on the market are faked, so as well as there being a huge amount of money at stake, there is also presumably plenty of material for our sleuths to work with!

Courtauld's '17th century painting', 'The Procuress'
This week's episode featured a painting called 'The Procuress' which hangs in the Courtauld Institute in London.  The painting has divided scholars' opinion for years and Fiona and Philip's mission is to find out whether the Courtauld painting is a genuine 17th century original, possibly painted by Vermeer, or a 1940s forgery from the prolific brush of Dutch superfaker Han Van Meergeren.   Van Meergeren was a man who dared to fake the work of Old Masters and made millions from his deception, until he was caught in 1945 after selling a supposedly Old Master painting to Hermann Goering.

To prove that he had not sold Dutch cultural property to the Nazis, Van Meegeren had to confess to multiple forgeries.  His subsequent trial caused a sensation when it was revealed for years he had duped art collectors and galleries into purchasing apparently Old Master paintings.  As Van Meegeren died before a complete record of his fakes was made, mystery survives to this day as to how many are still out there.  Philip and Fiona get to work on the London picture which, legend has it, hung in Van Meegeren's studio on the day he was arrested. Was it his last work? And by testing it, can it be proved prove how he out-foxed some of the most eminent minds in the art world?

The programme was fascinating and along the way we got to see Scotland Yard's storeroom full of fakes and latter-day forger John Myatt trying to reproduce Van Meergeren's techniques which involved painting a copy of Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring using a toxic mix of oil paint and corrosive bakelite resin.

Super stuff and I'll be rivetted to the final episode next week :0)

Fake or Fortune echoes a theme in one of my short stories in my latest release Brief EncountersThe Virtuous Courtesan tells the story of a valuable painting which hangs at Rookery End, ancestral seat of the Earls of Allingham.  The current Earl would like to sell the painting to clear debts run up by his father, but the provenance of The Virtuous Courtesan is not as straightforward as it seems....

Brief Encounters is available now as an e-book, and in September as a paperback.

Fake or Fortune is currently showing on BBC1 at 7pm on Sunday evenings :0)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Midsummer Eve competition at FRR

thorntonsToday (20th June) is Midsummer Eve and to mark the occasion this year, over at ForRomanceReaders we're offering boxes of gorgeous Thornton’s Summer Chocolates to two commenters!

All you have to do is answer this simple romance-themed question: “What is your top romantic movie and why?

Pop over to FRR and tell us all about your favourite romantic movie for a chance to win chocolates and a free ebook of Midsummer Eve at Rookery End if you haven’t already got a copy.

Closing date is one week from today, at Midnight BST on Monday 27th June.

Have fun and make sure you leave your contact details so we can get in touch if you win!

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Brief Encounters Review

Angie at Bookishly Attentive has reviewed Brief Encounters - she loved it and said:

"Brief Encounters is a must read, and its size makes it the perfect evening getaway.  Be sure to download this as quickly as you can! "

To read the full review, click here.

Many thanks to Angie & the Bookishly Attentive team for reviewing!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Some exciting news

Sharing is always fun so I'm delighted to share the exciting news that my Regency romance The Paradise Will is to appear as an ebook in September.  Yaaaay!!

The Paradise Will was first published in 2008, but it has been out for print for some time due to heavy demand.  An ebook edition is therefore good news for all those who have contacted me about getting hold of a copy, and for everyone else who enjoys a great story!  You don't even need a Kindle or any other reader - ebooks can be downloaded to your PC.  :0)  More details as I get them, but mark the date in your diary now and in the meantime, here's a little reminder.....

When spirited Alyssa Paradise unexpectedly inherits her uncle’s property in Dorset, she is determined to   meet the challenge of running a grand estate. However, there is a surprising condition: every week for six months she must dine tête-à-tête with the enigmatic Sir Giles Maxton, who owns the adjoining land. Alyssa wonders how she will endure this arrangement – Sir Giles cuts a dashing figure but he is positively insufferable.

 *Finalist in the RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Award*
 *Finalist in the RedRosesforAuthors Christmas Awards 2008*

And there's more good news... Brief Encounters - a sparkling new anthology of six romantic short stories - is currently available for just £1.39!   Sweet and sexy, contemporary and historical, the collection has something for everyone and is perfect if you need a quick fix of romantic fiction during your coffee or lunch break, or to wind down with in the evening.

The other Brief Encounters tales are by fellow members of the Coffee Crew, Nell Dixon, who writes warm-hearted contemporary romances, and Phillipa Ashley, who writes lively, sexy and fun romantic fiction.  Nell and Phillipa have had exciting news too.
Nell has just sold two romantic comedy novels to Myrmidon.  In the first Renovation, Renovation, Renovation, Kate would like an engagement ring from Steve but instead he's lumbered them with a thirteenth renovation project, and doing up Myrtle Cottage disturbs a ghost from the English Civil War who has romance troubles of her own.

Phillipa's brand new US release Wish You Were Here is riding high in the Amazon charts, as is Dating Mr. December which is absolutely free for one week in the USA and Canada.  As I type this, DMD is #1 in the Top 100 free Kindle books and WYWH is #20 in the Top 100 paid Kindle books.  
Congratulations to Phillipa and Nell!


Saturday, 4 June 2011

Derby Day and the Royal Connection

Today - 4th June - is Derby Day and like millions of others, I'll be glued to the TV to watch this very special race.

The Derby Stakes, or the Epsom Derby, or just The Derby is run every year in early June on the Epsom Downs in Surrey. It was first run in 1780, 231 years ago, and although it's not the oldest race (that title is held by the St. Ledger, first run in 1776), it is the richest and the most prestigious of the five Classics.  It's also known as the Greatest Horse Race in the World and the race that every owner, trainer and jockey wants to win more than any other.  This Group 1 race, now sponsored by Investec, is open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies and is takes place over a distance of 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards on the notoriously difficult Epsom course, about which more later.

The Derby at Epsom, 1821 - Theodore Gericault (1791-1824)


Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, organised a friendly competition for himself and his friends to race their three-year-old fillies over one and a half miles. He named it The Oaks after his estate. The following year a new race was added, a race that would determine the Best of the Best for both the racing and breeding of racehorses. The title of the race was to be decided by the tossing of a coin between the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, a leading racing figure of the day and friend of the Earl's.

This tossed coin was won by Stanley and the race would be known as ‘The Derby'; won incidentally, that very first year by Sir Charles Bunbury's horse, Diomed. 140 other countries now hold a sporting ‘Derby’, but, Epsom still remains ‘The Home of The Derby’, attracting the largest one day sporting crowd in excess of 125,000 who descend upon the Surrey racecourse to be part of something special - The Greatest Horse Race in the World.

The Course

As one of the most famous race courses in the world, its also one of the most testing trips in flat racing. Resembling the shape of a horseshoe, the Derby course of a mile and a half is ran in a left-handed direction. A right-handed rise of some one hundred and forty feet begins not long after the race commences. After about three furlongs at the top of the hill the field descend at Tattenham Corner and enter the finishing straight of about three and a half furlongs. The drop of about one hundred feet continues until about one hundred yards from the finishing line, the ground here rises for another several feet before the winning post.

Derby winners are special - any horse that can cope with the noise, plus the undulations, twists, turns and unusual camber of the Epsom course, plus have the necessary speed and stamina, are highly prized.  Colts usually become valuable stud stallions and Sea the Stars, the 2009 winner, went on to become the most valuable horse in the world after winning The Derby, the 2,000 Guinea and the Eclipse Stakes.

2011 Race

This year's race is the 30th anniversary of Shergar's win.  Shergar won The Derby in 1981 by a record 10 lengths, the longest winning margin in the race's history.  He was retired to stud, but two years later in February 1983, armed and masked men broke into the Ballymany Stud in County Kildare and kidnapped Shergar.  A ransom demanded, but after a series of negotiations it was never paid and Shergar was not seen again.  Shergar's remains have never been found and the thieves have never been officially identified.

For the tenth time, HM The Queen has a runner in The Derby with a colt named Carlton House (after the Prince Regent's mansion in Pall Mall).   The Queen has never won The Derby and in this Royal Wedding year, millions of people will be cheering on the favourite Carlton House in the hope he can achieve victory in this most famous of horse races.

I'll be one of them ;o)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Hurry, your last chance to win.... downloads of Brief Encounters!

Don't forget there are three free downloads of Brief Encounters to be won over at the Brief Encounters blog.  All you have to do post a comment about a brief encounter that you may have had. It might be with someone famous, a funny incident, something sad, something romantic - anything goes as long as it's memorable!  Just post before midnight GMT on 22nd May to have a chance to win :0)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Brief Encounters available now

It's here!

Brief Encounters - a sparkling new anthology of six romantic short stories - is available now.   Sweet and sexy, contemporary and historical, the collection has something for everyone.

The emphasis with these short stories is very much on FUN :0)  They were fun to develop (over coffee and cake - see below), fun to write (cue many hilarious email exchanges between the three authors!) and fun to watch come together with the help of an on-line poll to choose the cover.

My first story, Miss Pattingham Requests, opens with Gyles Beaufort receiving a request to visit Kensington, something the broodingly handsome Gyles has no desire to do because he's in the middle of a desperate search ....

In The Virtuous Courtesan, we pay another visit to that magical place for romance, Rookery End.  A prequel to the original Midsummer Eve collection, The Virtuous Courtesan is the story of just how Lord and Lady Allingham met ;0)  I got the original idea after chatting with a friend, a conversation which took place in that most beautiful of Regency settings, the Pump Room at Bath.  Very appropriate!

The other four Brief Encounters tales are by my friends, Nell Dixon, who writes warm-hearted contemporary romances, and Phillipa Ashley, who writes lively, sexy and fun romantic fiction. Together we call ourselves the Coffee Crew and we meet regularly to drink coffee, eat cakes and talk about writing.

Brief Encounters is perfect if you need a quick fix of romantic fiction during your coffee or lunch break, or to wind down with in the evening - either way, we hope you’ll love them!!

You can buy the ebook of Brief Encounters from Amazon UK or Amazon US.  Other formats and paperback coming soon.   Visit the Brief Encounters blog to find out more and for the chance to win a free copy :0)

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Shugborough Estate

Recently I paid a return visit to Shugborough, ancestral seat of the Earls of Lichfield.  There was no time for looking at the Mansion House, Servants' Quarters or Farm on this occasion (I'm planning another visit later in the year), but I did manage a tour of the walled garden and parkland and thought I'd share some photos :0)

Shugborough is a rarity, a complete working historic estate.  Thomas Anson, MP for Lichfield and created Viscount Anson & Baron Soberton in 1806, was the architect of large scale developments at the estate.

Thomas had married Anne-Margaret Coke, daughter of the great agriculturist Thomas Coke of Holkham.  Coke's drive and ambition obviously rubbed off on his son-in-law and Viscount Anson recruited Samuel Wyatt to create a self-sufficient working estate to rival the best in the country.

The result was the development of a walled garden, a model farmstead, an extended and improved mansion house and a number of classically designed labourers' cottages.

The walled garden, originally designed and built in 1806, was sited half a mile from the mansion house so that it did not restrict the view from the house.

The revolutionary brick walls were hollow inside and contained intermittent furnaces which sent hot air around the garden to produce a mild micro-climate for more tender plants, vegetables and fruit. The impressive head gardener's house (see above), series of bothies (structures which provided accommodation for young unmarried gardeners), stores and workshops were constructed along the north wall.  From the head gardeners house, a large heated greenhouse extended towards the central plunge pool.  Plunge pools (seen in the centre of the picture below) were believed to have been used as dipping pools allowing gardeners to water their crops with rainwater.   Further greenhouses were erected either side of the house along the north wall and you can still see the gable markings of these greenhouses today in the photo. 

By 1809, there were at least twenty gardeners employed in the gardens, earning between 5 and 13 shillings a year.  It's almost certain that the Lord Anson Blue Pea was grown in the walled garden.  This lovely bluish purple variety of sweet pea was introduced to Britain by Thomas Anson's (1695-1773) sea-faring brother George.  It was found in the Straits of Magellan in 1744 and adapted well to the British climate.  I've grown it myself and it's a beautiful variety.

William Pitt (in his Topographical History of Staffordshire) described the gardens in 1817 as having:

 '...very extensive ranges of hothouse, in which pine-apples, the grape, peach, the fig and other varieties of hothouse frtuits, flowers ad plants, are cultivated in the highest perfection.  One of the hot-houses is heated with steam, in which melons and cucumbers are produced in perfection at all seasons.'

Just a little bit more on this post about one of the parkland monuments at Shugborough.

The Tower of the Winds (1765)

The Tower of the Winds (see left) was completed in 1765 and is based on the Temple of the Winds in Athens.  It was reached by bridges to the porches over a surrounding lake.  Downstairs was once used as a dairy and the 1st Viscount Anson supposedly used the upstairs as a gambling den!

Upper floor, looking back towards the spiral staircase

Ornate ceiling, based on Nero's Golden House in Rome

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End - Ebook at 50% discount

Now here's a great offer!  As part of ‘Read an E-book’ week, 6-12th March, E-scape Press are offering a 50% discount on all their E-books purchased through Smashwords.

Follow the link below to buy Midsummer Eve at Rookery End - simply add the promotion code ‘RAE50′ at the checkout during the above dates :0)

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Brief Encounters - Judge the Cover Poll

Vote! by Gil Elvgren
As mentioned in my previous post, a collection of short stories by me, Phillipa Ashley and Nell Dixon will be coming out later this spring.  The stories (published by E-scape Press and entitled Brief Encounters) are a fantastic mix of contemporary and historical shorts which we hope our readers will love!

At the Brief Encounters blog we are running a poll on potential covers and we'd like our readers to comment and vote for their favourite image.  The poll will be open until midnight on Saturday (GMT) and as an extra bonus, Nell will choose a random commentor to receive a PDF copy of her latest release, Making Waves

Please pop over to the blog and vote - we want to hear what you think! :0)

Monday, 14 February 2011

Happy Valentine's Day and Launch of Brief Encounters

Here's some very exciting news for Valentine's Day – a brand new short story collection called Brief Encounters will be published by E-scape Press this spring.

It’s a collection of six fun, romantic stories written by the members of the Coffee Crew – Nell Dixon, Phillipa Ashley and me. I hope you're going to love them.  You can read all about the new collection on the new Brief Encounters blog here - do pop over and leave a comment!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Twelfth Night

I've been unable to blog for a while so I'd like to wish a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all :0)

 With Twelfth Night fast approaching, let's take a look at some of the old customs associated with this festival.  In the Christian calender, 6th January is Epiphany - named after the Greek word for manifestation and marking the manifestation of Christ to the Magi or wise men.  The secular name for celebrations, however,  is Twelfth Night, the origins of which are obscure but for centuries it was the culmination of a period of merrymaking which began on Christmas Eve.

In Tudor times, Twelfth Night and Day were marked by plays, pageants and masques and by the exchanging of gifts.  Twelfth Night, or What You Will by William Shakespeare was written to be performed as Twelfth Night entertainment and the comedy has many elements that are reversed (such as a woman dressing as a man and Malvolio imagining he can become a nobleman), in keeping with the revelry associated with Twelfth Night celebrations,

Two long-standing features of Twelfth Night celebrations were the games and the baking of a Twelfth Night cake.  The role of King and Queen were chosen at random from those present by whoever found the bean in their piece of cake becoming King, and whoever found the pea becoming Queen.  Once appointed, the King and Queen ruled over the rest of the entertainment.  A clove was also sometimes hidden in the cake, with its finder designated the Knave (Samuel Pepys confessed to finding a clove in his slice, but secretly putting it in his neighbour's portion!)  Thimbles, coins, rings or simple tickets were used to select characters for others present. 

One anonymous writer in the Universal Magazine of 1774 wrote:

'I went to a friend's house in the country to partake of some of those innocent pleasures that constitute a Merry Christmas; I did not return until I had been present at drawing King and Queen, and eaten a slice of the Twelfth Cake.....A noble cake was produced, and two bowls, containing the fortunate chances for the different sexes.  Our host filled up the tickets; the whole company, except for the King and Queen, were to be ministers of state, maids of honour, or ladies of the bedchamber.  Our kind host and hostess, whether by accident or design, became King and Queen.  According to Twelfth Day law, each party is to support their character until midnight.'

The tradition of cakes on Twelfth Night was so strong that it became the busiest day of the year for bakers and confectioners, as demonstrated in this 1827 extract from William Hone's Every-Day Book.

'In London, with every pastry-cook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is 'high change' on Twelfth-Day.  From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers.  Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed.  Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax lights to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows.  The richest in flavour and the heaviest in weight and price are placed on large....salvers; ..... all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate.  Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milkmaids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms, in snow-white confectionary, painted with varigated colours, glittering by 'excess of light' reflected from mirrors against the walls.'

But as people gathered around to admire the display, another traditional pastime took place - mischievous youths in the crowd created havoc by surreptiously nailing bystanders clothes to the window frame or tying them to their neighbours!

Here's an illustration by George Cruickshank showing the crowd surrounding a confectioner's shop displaying Twelfth Night cakes.  Look carefully and you'll see the pranksters have tied the ladies' dresses to the gentlemen's coat tails *g*

By the second half of the nineteenth century, Twelfth Night celebrations had begun to wane and the emphasis had shifted to Christmas and New Year.  Nowadays, Twelfth Night still marks the end of the Christmas period but more people know it simply as the day on which decorations should be taken down.  Speaking of which, I have some things to pack away and some cake to eat .... *g*