A brilliant evening yesterday @SmockAlley Theatre in Dublin. It started with a main course and a glass of wine in the upstairs Banquet Hall and was followed by a fascinating tour of the building before culminating in a sparkling performance of The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose father, Thomas Sheridan was actor–manager at the first theatre here in the eighteenth century.
The first Smock Alley Theatre opened as a Theatre Royale in 1662, two years after the restorat...ion of Charles II and closed in 1787. It was stripped of its fittings and used as a warehouse before being converted into the Catholic church of St Michael and St John in 1811. The church in turn closed its doors in 1989 and in 2012, the new Smock Alley Theatre opened. Last night’s performance of The Rivals was as fresh and funny as if it had been written yesterday and not over 240 years ago. Get there an hour before the performance and join the tour. http://smockalley.com/
If you are interested in historical fiction, I highly recommend the HNS. They run terrific conferences too.
📙📘📗 Have you joined the Historical Novel Society yet? We're here for for readers and writers across the world! You don't have to be a published writer and you'll get the freshest news about our conferences, plus a quarterly review through the post:
The Murmur of Masks is on special offer until Wednesday 16th
“An authentic portrait of the passion and turbulence of the extended Regency period and a warm and engaging story of a young woman's struggle to survive and find love in an era of violence and uncertainty.” “Highly recommended for those who like gripping— and accurate— historical fiction. https://goo.gl/zr7xvE
"if you are writing about humanity, you are writing about love". Kate Kerrigan
Catherine Tinley has tagged me to post some of my WIP. Here is an extract from A Suggestion of Scandal, scheduled for publication in November. And I hereby tag Pam Lecky - Author, Dianne Ascroft and Aleigha Siron to follow suit if they wish.
Loring Place stank of roasting beef. For over twenty-four hours a team of men had turned the huge carcass on the massive spit before a glowing fire, letting the ox revolve slowly as it spat and sizzled, basting it regularly with the drip...pings so that the skin gradually blackened but did not burn. By Thursday morning the aroma had gone from appetising to nauseating, or so Rosa felt. Although the fire pit had been dug well away from the house, the thick, greasy smell seeped through shut doors and windows, oozing through chinks and gaps so that there was no escape from the all-pervasive reek. But perhaps only the inhabitants of the place found it so unpleasant. Certainly, the tenants, villagers and neighbours who had arrived all morning smiled and licked eager lips in anticipation of the feast to come.
Sir Edward’s birthday had dawned sunny but with a chill east wind that set bunting and banners fluttering bravely and sent the ladies back to their rooms to exchange their spencers for warmer shawls and pelisses. Soon over a hundred people mingled on the lawns in front of the house. A marquee had been set up to provide shelter for the nobility and gentry while rough benches and tables waited for the tenants and villagers.
Chloe’s eyes sparkled as the fifes and drums of the Bury Yeomanry marched in to the strains of The British Grenadiers. “There is something so exhilarating about military music. And here come the players. I hope Julian’s side wins. Papa will be so cast down if they are defeated.”
She dimpled at Major Raven who brought his hand to his shako with a flourish as he passed, and watched fascinated as the gentlemen, having arrived at the benches set out for the players, proceeded to remove their coats.
“Oh, look; Mr Haldon needs his valet to help him,” she giggled.
“What a fribble,” her grandmother snapped.
Chloe’s eyes rounded when her aunt, the dowager Lady Undrell replied, “You have to admit, Mamma, that he strips better than one would have expected.” She nodded towards a sleek, black-haired man of about forty who must have made some quip that had the others laughing. “Who is that beside him?”
“Mr Purdue, the new owner of Old Hall” Rosa said. She had earlier been introduced to this gentleman who had recently inherited a neighbouring property from his uncle. This was his first appearance in local society. Having watched him favour the younger Ladies Loring and Undrell, Mrs Spilsbury and Mrs Glazebrook with the same speaking glance from his dark brown eyes, she had not been flattered when he turned it on her. His eyebrows had twitched together at her cool response but he had bowed as civilly and moved on.
And so we come to the end of Henry's and Maria's story. It would really interest me to know what you made of it.
I really enjoyed talking to Teresa Quinn on Bookline at Liffey Sound 96.4fm this morning. Liffey Sound will put up a pod cast of our chat over the next day or so and I'll post a link here.
some fascinating discussion points here. What do you think?
Henry and Maria have set up house together, but all is not calm in their new home. Click below to find out why.
For all, but especially for those interested in the Regency period.
For US_based readers: I wholeheartedly recommend this book. A wonderful, touching read.
Happy Monday, everyone!
For my American readers (with my apologies to everyone else) I'm happy to announce A Desperate Fortune is a Kindle Daily Deal today, on ...sale for $1.99 at amazon, and being price-matched by most other retailers.
Thanks to Smart B*tches, Trashy Books for the following buy links:
Barnes & Noble NOOK: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-desperate-fo…/1119462542…
Please share with anyone you think might find this useful--I know books can be expensive and I'm always glad to be able to alert you to any deals like this when I find out about them.
For those who haven't read A Desperate Fortune, here's the back cover teaser:
"For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher.
But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home."
I'm going to break with tradition a bit and, instead of giving you the first chapter, I'm going to give you the third one, which introduces the historical heroine (and writer of the diary), Mary Dundas.
(Apologies also for the fact that facebook doesn't do italics, so you may have to imagine them where they belong...)
Chanteloup-les-Vignes, 14 January 1732
It seemed on that morning to Mary Dundas that the new year intended to go on exactly the same as the last, bringing all the excitement, surprise, and adventure she’d come to expect in her twenty-one years: namely, none.
She had risen at five, as she always did, for her uncle held to the advice of the physicians quoted in the work of Rabelais: “To rise at five, to dine at nine, to sup at five, to sleep at nine,” and so he’d run his household for as long as she’d been part of it.
With the help of the maid she had dressed with her cousin Colette, as she always did, and they had talked, not of what they would actually do on that day, but of what might occur should the wind ever suddenly change its direction and blow in their favour. Perhaps then the handsome Chevalier de Vilbray who’d taken the nearby chateau for the hunting last autumn and stayed over Christmas would, feeling a need for companionship, come by to visit. Or maybe their other near neighbours were even now planning that musical evening they’d promised to host.
But at breakfast, while Mary had eaten her butter and bread and fresh milk, as she always did, no invitations had come to enliven the day and no handsome young nobles had called at the door, and here she was, sitting as usual in the salon in her chair by the window with Frisque, her dog, curled on her lap, and her other two cousins, Gaspard and Jacques, idly debating some trivial point about bridges and which was the longest, and Mary felt certain that anything, anything, would be a blessed relief.
“Does it honestly matter?” she asked Gaspard. “Surely each bridge is as long as it needs to be, and serves its purpose as well as the others.”
Gaspard, who was four years her junior, his dark hair just recently clipped to allow for the white-powdered wig with its short sides and black-ribboned queue that he thought made him look much more serious, turned now and spoilt the effect with a grin. “That is so like you English, to judge such an intricate thing as a bridge by its function, and no other measure.”
“How else would one measure a bridge, but by whether it does what you built it to do?” Mary countered. “And I am not English.”
Colette, between them, looked up from her sewing and shook her head, setting her bright curls to dancing. “No, no, she is right. Uncle Guillaume is Scottish, not English.”
Gaspard blew a sharp puff of air to declare the distinction irrelevant. “What does it matter which nation she claims?”
He looked so very much the part of the young gallant then that Mary had to take great pains to hide her smile, for she was far too fond of him to wish to wound his pride. Instead, she settled one hand on the silken hair of Frisque’s warm back and felt the lazy thump-thump of the little dog’s tail on her lap. “I claim neither,” she said. “I am happily nationless.”
Jacques, who would not be fourteen till next month but who was, without question, more thoughtful than all of them, stirred in his own chair. “You can’t be.”
“No person can truly be nationless.”
Mary knew otherwise. She had been born without a nation—daughter of an exile at the French court of a foreign king who had himself no country and no crown. The fact her mother had been French gave her but partial claim to call herself the same, and she had never tried to do so. Having lived these fifteen years, since she was six, within her aunt and uncle’s house, she had adopted French as her first language and adapted to the customs and the fashions of the nation, but while everybody else called her “Marie,” in her own mind she was still “Mary,” neither Scots nor French, but falling in between.
She plainly said so to her cousins now, and Colette answered, “Silly, if you will not stand in Scotland and you will not stand in France, you will have no place left to stand but in the water that divides them.”
To which Gaspard added slyly, “Perhaps then our talk of bridges will not bore you.”
A swish of skirts and briskly clicking heels announced the entrance of his mother, Mary’s aunt, who asked them, “Which of you can possibly be bored on such a morning?” But she knew. Her smiling eyes went straight to Mary’s. “You have been too long indoors, I think. Come, bring Frisque. He’s half-asleep, as well. We’ll take a walk together.”
“Where else?” Aunt Magdalene, once having set her mind to something, could be like a plough horse walking in a furrow—difficult to turn. And to be truthful, Mary had no great objection to a walk. If not adventurous, at least it was a welcome change of scene.
She fetched her cloak and muff and changed her slippers for the heavy shoes that better warmed her feet while she was walking, and with Frisque at her heels she trailed after her aunt down the corridor and out the back door.
Outside, the snow lay soft and thick beneath the sleeping vines that climbed the hill behind the line of houses. Come the spring, the sun would bring those vines to life. The vines, in turn, would bring forth vibrant clusters of the little grapes that through the summer and the autumn would enliven the whole village, giving industry and purpose to the villagers who worked towards the harvest and production of the wine that had, for centuries, provided them a living. But for now, the vines lay dormant. And they waited.
Mary, watching Frisque circle and sniff round those leafless vines, felt once again the stir of restlessness and discontent within her breast, and fought to push it down again before her aunt could notice any change in her expression. There was little, she had learned, that could escape the keenly empathetic eye of her Aunt Magdalene.
They walked a little distance without speaking. Mary liked the silence, and the frosted air that smelled of wood smoke, and the view that spread and grew as they climbed higher. She could see, now, clear across the tiled rooftops of their neighbours’ houses, clear past the tall spire of the pale stone church of Saint-Roch with its two great bells, across the trees that hid the roofs of the next village, Andrésy, and over the thin curving ribbon of the river Seine, to the dark forest on the shore beyond: the woods of Saint-Germain.
“Marie, my dear,” her aunt said—using, as she always did, the French form of her niece’s name, “how much do you remember of your life before you came to us?”
The question caught her unprepared. Surprised, she tried to gather up her thoughts and focused harder on the dark mass of the forest, at the farthest edge of which she knew, although she could not see it, stood the great chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye—the royal castle in whose shadow she herself had been baptised.
She said, in honesty, “I have few memories.”
Those she had retained were like a web of lace, connected in a loose way but with gaps and holes and spaces, and so frail and insubstantial she was never sure how safe they were to trust.
Her mother’s face had long since faded from her mind and been supplanted by the image in the portrait hanging here in the salon that showed her mother and Aunt Magdalene as they had looked before they’d both been married. Mary liked that portrait well, but there was little in the pale determined face and calm brown eyes of the young woman who had grown to be her mother that stirred any sense of recognition. It was not her mother’s face that she remembered, but the feel of her—the soft warmth of her arms, the firmer softness of her silken bodice over stays, the ever-present tickle of the ruffled lace that edged her white chemise and brushed on Mary’s cheek and upturned nose when she was snuggling on her mother’s lap.
And there were scents, as well—a whiff of roses, or of lavender. And later still, the scents of sickness, not so pleasant to recall. And that was all the memory of her mother that was left to her. No voice, though she’d been told her mother sang, and she imagined that her mother’s voice had been much like Aunt Magdalene’s, with warm and pleasant tones that seemed to always be prepared to open easily to laughter.
Of her brothers and her father she remembered something more, but even then, their forms and features had long blurred to indistinction, and their words and voices were reduced to whispers in a language she now rarely used herself, despite her uncle’s stoic efforts to make sure she did not lose her English. “Any foreign language,” so Uncle Jacques had told her, “is an asset in this world. It will expand your opportunities.”
He’d bought her English books, and when the local blacksmith had gone off to Amsterdam and come home with an Irish wife, then Uncle Jacques had happily employed her as a tutor, not to Mary on her own but all the children. Only Mary, though, who’d spoken English for her first six years of life, had truly profited from this arrangement. Colette, Mary’s cousin, had no ear for learning languages, and both Gaspard and young Jacques had been too distracted by the fresh blond beauty of the blacksmith’s Irish wife to pay attention to their lessons.
Still, the end result had been that Mary, though she spoke in French, could switch to English when she needed to with hardly any accent. And she could at least put meaning to the words that she recalled her father saying, when he’d brought her here to leave her for the final time.
“Now, Mary,” he had told her, “be a good lass for your uncle and your aunt, and mind the manners you’ve been taught, and use the sense that you’ve been given, and I promise you, you’ll have a better life here than I ever could have given you.”
At least, that’s what she thought he’d said. The years, perhaps, had rearranged his words and phrased them into a more sentimental speech within her memory, the same memory that insisted she’d replied to him, “I want to stay with you.” And that his thumb had brushed a tear from her hot cheek, and he had said, “We do not always get the things we want.”
She did remember, clearly, that she’d cried for him and called him back, and that he had not turned; he’d walked away from her with quick, determined strides, head bent, until her aunt’s broad skirts had rustled round to block her vision as the carriage wheels had rattled down the road.
She looked towards that same road now and squared her shoulders as her father had, and asked her aunt, “Why do you wish to know what I remember?”
She had never known Aunt Magdalene to search for words, and yet it seemed to Mary that her aunt was doing just that, in the moment’s pause. And then her aunt remarked, “We’ve had a letter from your brother.”
Even less expected. The surprise, this time, stopped Mary in mid-step, and made her heedless of the fact that she was standing ankle-deep in snow. She had three brothers. “Which of them?”
Aunt Magdalene said, “Nicolas. Do you remember him at all?”
Her eldest brother. Nicolas. Broad shoulders and a pair of boots. Two hands that tossed her in the air and caught her when she came down laughing. In a voice that hurt her throat a little, Mary answered, “Yes.”
“He has returned to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and now he wishes you should join him.”
Mary tried to take this in. Her mind, resisting the attempt, focused instead on little Frisque, who seemed convinced that there was something of great interest hidden underneath the snow that mounded round the rooted base of one staked vine and had begun to dig in earnest to discover it. A mouse perhaps, thought Mary, sleeping in its winter burrow with its family.
“When,” she asked, “did he return?” She’d thought he was in Italy.
Aunt Magdalene paused longer this time. Then she said, “Two years ago.”
Mary looked from Frisque to her aunt, well aware her feelings would be plainly written on her face. “Two years? He has been here two years? So close, and yet he has not ever . . .” She could not continue. She looked sharply down, then up again, and out across the river to the darkly distant forest.
“He has family of his own now,” said her aunt. “A wife and children. And a life at Saint-Germain has never been a certain one financially. Perhaps he wanted to be sure that he was well and settled, before sending for you.”
Mary nodded, saying nothing, thinking hard and blinking harder, while her aunt, who knew her well, allowed her space to turn things over in her mind. They turned so very quickly that she could not get them sorted, or begin to make much sense of them beyond the simple fact that just beyond those trees, the brother whom she had not seen for fifteen years was even now attending to the business of his day. Perhaps, like her, he was outdoors. Perhaps his gaze was even turned in this direction . . .
“I did not expect,” she said, in that tight voice that hurt her still, “that anyone would ever send for me.” And then, because that made her sound too needy, and she was not altogether sure exactly what she needed, she let her forehead crease into a thoughtful frown. “Am I to have a choice?”
“My dear, you always have a choice.” Her aunt spoke calmly, in a voice that carried strength and reassurance. “Uncle Jacques and I would never send you where you did not wish to go. But Nicolas does seem to want you with him very much. And Saint-Germain,” she said, her own chin lifting in a nod towards the unseen castle past the forest on the far side of the river, “is a world apart from this one. You were too young, I think. You have forgotten how it is to live within a royal court.”
A dim remembrance flickered in the corner of her memory: someone’s hands—her brother’s, maybe—hoisting her up high to see above the heads of others, while a murmur of excitement chased around them like the wind across a summer field. Look, Mary. Look! The king!
The flicker died, and left a darkness in its place.
And Mary said, “There is no court at Saint-Germain. Not anymore.” The king, if he had ever truly been a king, was gone. The queen, his mother, had been dead for years.
“But there are courtiers still,” her aunt remarked. “They will have daughters of your age for you to meet and talk with. And young men with whom to dance.” The smile was colouring Aunt Magdalene’s warm voice now as she took the few steps needed to draw level with the place where Mary stood, an undemanding presence at her side, but giving comfort nonetheless. “Unless,” she said, “you’d rather linger here and battle with Colette to catch the eye of the Chevalier de Vilbray?”
The thought drew Mary from her deeper ones and made her smile, as well. “The chevalier pads his stockings. And his breath is none too pleasant.”
Frisque’s quarry had eluded him. Abandoning his digging, the undaunted spaniel bounded through the snow towards another vine, his plumed tail wagging. He’d never seemed to mind that his entire world was bounded by this property, thought Mary, and for that she’d always envied him. For fifteen years now, she’d been looking daily to that forest and the wider world beyond it, to the smudge of smoke and roof lines that lay farther still than Saint-Germain-en-Laye, past the next bend in the bright river: Paris.
Daily she had looked in that direction and had wished and hoped and dreamed, and all the while she had stayed rooted in this village as securely as these rows of tied and fruitless vines that slumbered here and waited for the sun.
We do not always get the things we want, her father’s voice reminded her.
Aunt Magdalene was watching her. “Marie, my darling, you are twenty-one. Your mother, at that age, had met your father, and she would have never done that if she had stayed here.”
“I know.” Anticipation waged a war with reason in her heart. “But I don’t like to think of leaving.”
“Then perhaps you ought to view it not as leaving, but returning.” Her aunt laid a warm arm over Mary’s shoulders. Hugged her close. “We have been blessed to have you with us, but I think that always here”—she tapped her fingers on her cloak, above her heart—“you’ve had a little voice that calls to you. And maybe now, my darling, is the time for you to let it lead you home.”
I'll miss Lucy Kellaway on Mondays and wish her every success in her new career. I hope the Irish Times will publish the twelve columns she will continue to write for the Financial Times each year. She was always informative, witty and inspiring.