Edinburgh underground

This week’s Footnotes on Friday is a cry for help.

I’ve dropped one of my characters into trouble, and I need atmospheric detail and historic fact on the way to getting her out. Are any of you experts in Edinburgh’s underground?

Amy Cunningham, daughter of Susan Cunningham and granddaughter of Lord Henry Redepenning, has been kidnapped and is being held in the cellar of a house somewhere in Edinburgh. She finds that a pile of rubbish hides either a hole or a trapdoor that lets her into Edinburgh’s underground ways, where she has various adventures and experiences before being taken up by an amiable crowd of university students/apprentices/seamstresses or whatever I decide, and escorted to her family townhouse.

But which underground ways?

I’ve narrowed it down to the South Bridge Vaults or Mary King’s Close, both of which were available to me in 1812.

The Vaults are chambers formed in the arches of South Bridge, which was built in 1788. South Bridge was a shopping arcade that bridged a gully, and the 19 arches beneath it contained 120 rooms that quickly filled up with taverns, tradesmen’s workshops, and slum housing. All in the dark, and increasingly illicit and nasty.

Robert Louis Stevenson described the places in his 1878 book Edinburgh: Picturesque Notes:

“…under dark arches and down dark stairs and alleys…the way is so narrow that you can lay a hand on either wall. (There are) skulking jail-birds; unkempt, barefoot children; (an) old man, when I saw him last, wore the coat in which he had played the gentleman three years before; and that was just what gave him so preeminent an air of wretchedness.”

Mary King’s Close is a relict of a much earlier time. In a city enclosed by walls, it’s common for new buildings to be erected on top of old ones, the weight of centuries sinking the past with cellars containing what was once the street or even upper floors of a building. Legend has it that Mary King’s Close, which is under the City Chambers, was sealed up in the 1640’s to prevent still living plague victims from infecting the rest of the city. Another source I found says, more pragmatically, that the City Fathers of the time were worried about losing trade to the New Town so they:

decided to build a grand new Royal Exchange. And they found the perfect spot opposite St Giles Cathedral, with just one small problem – the streets of houses already there. But rather than knocking them down, they took the top floors off and used the lower floors as foundations. Mary King’s Close was covered over and swallowed up into the building’s basement. The sloping ground meant the houses fronting the Royal Mile were destroyed but further down the close whole houses were buried intact. [https://www.ontheluce.com/underground-edinburgh-mary-kings-close/]

People being people, many of the denizens refused to leave, and you could drop into the underground right up until the start of the twentieth century to have a wig made or to buy tobacco.

So which one? And what would it have seemed like to a gently-born if feisty 15-year-old Regency maiden? Can anyone help? Drop me a message on my contact page. I’d love to hear from you.

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Thank you to the historians

Look what arrived in my mail box yesterday! 905 pages of detailed research pertinent to my current work in progress, The Realm of Silence.

Pertinent in the tiniest of ways. I am, after all, writing an historical romance. I might use my blog to prose on about the interesting facts I discover in my reading, especially on Fridays, but I don’t stuff them all into the stories.

Still, I’m about to take some of my characters in to Penicuik, and they need to talk to a French sergeant who is imprisoned there. So how could that happen? Were the prisoners isolated from the local citizens? Did they get a chance to mix? What happened when they were sick? Or if they died?

Ian MacDougall can tell me, and from the first 50 pages, which is all I’ve read so far, he can do so in a clear and interesting manner. Not always the case, I can tell you!

So far, for this book, I’ve read two guides to the Great North Road in Regency England, several books about rebels, radicals, and agitators, and a number of journal articles about prisoners-of-war.

Undoubtedly, as the characters continue telling me their stories, I’ll be off to find out more.

So this post is to thank all the serious historians who have spent years reading everything they can find on a topic (including contemporary sources), talking to other experts, studying artefacts, and writing up their results. MacDougall has six pages of bibliography and three pages of thank-yous to people he has interviewed or who have sent him stuff.

He and all the other wonderful historians I’ve relied on over the years save me from making wrong turns in the story or artefacts or actions or language that is wrong for the period. It matters to me, and it matters to many of the readers, and I just wanted to stop for a moment to say I’m grateful.

Thank you.

And watch this Friday spot for more about Prisoners of War in Scotland from 1803 to 1814.

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Secrets on WIP Wednesday

You can’t possibly tell all that you know, and certainly your protagonists can’t. The story would be over almost before it started.

So what secrets are they hiding from one another or from the wider world? Their feelings? Something shameful in their past? A secret they’re keeping for someone else? Big or trivial, secrets help us to keep up the tension. What’s yours? Share an excerpt in the comments.

This week, I’m sharing from The Realm of Silence, which I still haven’t made a book page for. I can at least show you the cover, and link to The Golden Redepenning page. (Note to self: write a book blurb and set up a book page.)

They made their next change in Durham, since the stage that followed included a long steep pull out of the valley. At first, the fresh horses required all of Gil’s attention, but they soon settled to their work and Susan broke the long silence.

“We have talked for two days about my family, Rutledge. What of yours? How are your sisters?”

The horses startled, and tried to sidle sideways, and Gil realised he’d tightened his grip. He relaxed his hands, calling, “Steady, there. Steady,” and they settled back into the swift walk suitable for the gentler terrain on this plateau.

Susan waited until he had the horses back under control before she said, “If your family is off limits, Gil, I will respect that. But I am a safe pair of ears if you need someone to listen. I knew your brother, remember. Your sister-in-law, too, though not well. And Lena and Clem were friends of mine once.”

He had almost forgotten. He was accustomed to thinking of the Redepenning boys as school friends, but it began before that, when he and his mother and sisters had moved to West Gloucestershire, just under the Cotswold Edge, after his grandfather took an apoplexy and died at the news of the death of Gil’s father. Rupert, the new Lord Rutledge, had ordered his mother and much younger siblings to his new estate, but had not bothered to bestir himself from London and its myriad entertainments.

And the three Rutledge children had fallen instantly in love with the family on the neighbouring estate of Longford Court, where Lord and Lady Henry were raising their own five children and one of their nephews.

Gil had gone gaily off to school with the boys, and returned only for holidays until he bought his colours.

But Susan’s words filled his head with images of three little girls at the Longford Whitsunday Fair and the Harvest Festival and numerous festivities during the twelve days of Christmas: Clementine and Susan, just a year apart in age and arm in arm, watching over Madelena, who was four years younger. 

He bit hard on his upper lip and blinked rapidly to chase away liquid that clouded his eyes. “I had forgotten. They were happy then, weren’t they? My sisters? Before?” Before he embraced school life, throwing himself into the friendships he forged there, and forgot his responsibility to protect his family.

“We all were. I loved having neighbours of my own age just a short ride away.” Susan gave a soft snort of amusement. “Even if my mother did hold them up as models of decorum every time I slipped out of the house to run away with you boys.”

Gil hadn’t known her mother disapproved. He had thought Susan perfect, just as she was. “I used to wish they were more like you. But they never would step outside of my father’s rules. My father had firm views about how ladies behaved”

“I never met your father. Did he not die before you moved to Thornbury Hall?”

“Yes. Killed in a drunken race that he lost to my brother Rupert. But his memory still controlled my mother and sisters.”

He’d said more than he intended, but he trusted Susan; perhaps even more than he trusted her brothers and cousin. Not that he could tell her the whole. He would go to the grave keeping his sisters’ secret. He could, perhaps, share a little, though. She was a wise woman, was Susan. No one could absolve Gil, but talking to her might ease the burden a little. “If you knew Rupert, you know what he was like.”

“He was a dissolute, vicious monster,” Susan said, decidedly.

“He was the image of our father,” Gil admitted.

“I did not know your father, but your mother and sisters were terrified of Rupert, and I know what he did to Clem, and why she ran away with William Byrne.”

This time, the horses stopped, responding to a signal he was unaware of giving as he turned to look at Susan, his mouth gaping. “She told you?”

“Of course not. I was only fifteen then, and still in the schoolroom. I knew she became withdrawn and unhappy when your brother returned to Thornbury for the summer, and then she disappeared. I never even knew that she had eloped with Byrne until I heard the servants talking about how Byrne had ruined your sister and your brother was going to kill him.”

“Walk on,” Gil said to the horses. He had to control himself better. He was confusing the beasts. “Then…” He didn’t know how to ask what she thought she knew without disclosing the scandal at the heart of his family’s misery. Perhaps she had heard of the beatings; the cruel punishments. But not the other.

“Papa told me all when your brother thought to court me. He had it from Will when Will asked for his help to get Clem away.”

Gil didn’t know what question to ask first. When had Rupert courted Susan? Did Lord Henry help the fleeing couple, and was it him Gil had to thank for getting them away so secretly that Rupert never found a trace of them? And what, exactly, did Lord Henry tell his daughter?

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Tea with Lord Henry

Today’s guest is an old friend. Eleanor Haverford has known Brigadier General Lord Henry Redepenning since he was a mere captain and she a girl barely graduated from the nursery to the schoolroom.

They met at the baptism of their mutual niece Emily, daughter of Eleanor’s sister and Lord Henry’s brother, and met again six years later when the Reverend Lord Stephen Redepenning and Lady Stephen proudly presented their second child and only son to God and  the fashionable world. Eleanor was thirteen then, and Lord and Lady Henry had two children and a third on the way.

The friendship had been forged in the nursery that week. Lady Stephen had a wet nurse and little interest in her children beyond their dynastic purpose, so Eleanor and Lord and Lady Henry found the nursery a safe place to escape the lady’s loudly expressed disappointment over the recent marriage of her husband’s elder brother, the Earl of Chirbury, and his new wife’s obvious fecundity, which showed Chirbury’s clear intention to depose Lord Stephen as heir presumptive with a brand new heir apparent.

That had been forty years ago, and the friendship between the duchess, as she became within six years, and the Brigadier General and his wife had survived the test of time, and even been strengthened by the death of Lady Henry twenty years ago.

Today, Lord Henry had come seeking a favour, which was his without question, though Eleanor burned with curiosity about his reasons.

“Thank you for taking the children,” Lord Henry said.

“It is no trouble, Henry. It is nice for Frances to have Anna’s company, and the older girls are in a fair way to making a pet of your little Michael. But how do you come to have charge of your daughter’s two little ones? Susan always keeps them close.”

Lord Henry frowned, staring into his cup as if for inspiration. “It is worrying, Eleanor. In fact, that is why I asked you to take Anna and Michael. Because I mean to go north and see what I can do to help.”

Eleanor leant forward a little, her head tipped to one side. She would assist her dear friend without an explanation, but she devoutly hoped he intended to give her one.

And yes, he responded to her silence as she had hoped. “I should explain. Susan has been in Scotland with the younger two children. She insists on Michael visiting his estate several times a year, young as he is, so that the tenants and local gentry come to know him. I expected her back in London some time this week, but Anna and Michael arrived with her servants, and a note saying she had detoured to visit her daughter Amy at school, and would be following within a day. That was a week ago.”

Now Eleanor’s frown mirrored Henry’s. “A whole week? Is Susan ill? Has there been an accident?”

Lord Henry shook his head. “It seems that Amy was missing when Susan arrived, and Susan has gone after her. She sent me a note, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. Something about spies and a French music mistress. Then I had another note from Stafford, where Susan left her groom because he was ill.”

Eleanor put her cup down, spilling her tea in her agitation. “So she is on her own? Henry!”

“No. Not as bad as that. Or worse, perhaps. She is travelling with Gil Rutledge, who is an old friend of my children, Eleanor, as you know. He is a good man, is Rutledge.”

“Oh dear. I mean, I am pleased, of course, that Susan has support, and I trust Rutledge to help Susan find Amy quickly, but I do hope no-one sees the two of them travelling together.”

“On the busiest road in the kingdom? For Amy is heading north up the Great North Road, and Susan and Gil after her.” Lord Henry gave a heavy sigh. “At least Rutledge is unwed, and Susan is a widow, so they can salvage their reputations with a wedding.”

“That is the least of our concerns, dear Henry,” Eleanor corrected him, sternly. “What has become of dear Amy?”

“You are right, Eleanor. And that is why I have ventured to burden you with my grandchildren. I must go north and see what I can do. I would have sent one of Susan’s brothers, but with three of them overseas and Alex’s wife due to deliver a baby any day… No, I must do this myself.”

“You can count on me to care for Anna and Michael, my dear friend. Yes, and for anything else you might need.”

 

Lord Henry’s daughter is the heroine of my current work-in-progress, The Realm of Silence, which is the third novel in The Golden Redepennings. I am working on it, honest! I was trying for December, but February might be more realistic.

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A bit of horse sense

In today’s Footnotes on Friday, I’m recycling a post I wrote for Regina Jeffers. If you didn’t catch it first time round, please enjoy.

My qualifications for writing about horses are ten years as a Riding for the Disabled mum, five as a Pony Club mum, and seven as the reluctant care-taker of one or more obstreporous ponies.

Yet I write Regencies, and in Regency times, gentlemen were as obsessed with their horses as today’s men are with their cars or motorbikes. In fact, in two of my books, including the latest release, the hero breeds horses for sale.

Which meant I had a lot to learn. I knew the smell of wet pony, and the tricks it can get up to when it doesn’t want the bridle and saddle. That was a start. Many blog posts, library books, video clips, websites, and questions to friends later, I still think that one end bites and the other kicks. But I’m slightly more confident about sending my horse-mad heroes out into the wide world.

In The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, Lord Sutton breeds Turkmen horses he and his family have brought from their home in the Kopet Dag mountains. Lord Sutton’s Turkmens, a predecessor of today’s Ahkal Teke, arrived in England well after the heyday of what they then called the orientals, or hot bloods. Finer boned, thinner skinned, faster, and more spirited than the European horses (known as cold bloods), the imports from Turkey, Persia, and middle Asia fascinated the English of the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries.

From the two lines came the warm bloods, direct ancestors of today’s thoroughbreds. Indeed, the thoroughbred stud book was founded in the late eighteenth century (for horses intended for racing) and records all English Thoroughbred breeding even today. A thoroughbred was a horse whose birth and lineage was recorded in the book. Other horses with the same breeding not intended for racing were known simply as ‘bloods’.

If you wanted to sell, or to buy, a horse, you might go to a local horse fair. Or, if you lived in London, you’d drop down to Tattersall’s on Hyde Park Corner. It had been founded in 1766 by a former groom of the Duke of Kingston, and held auctions every Monday and on Thursdays during the Season. Tatersall’s charged a small commission on each sale, but also charged both buyers and sellers for stabling.

Tattersalls was an auction ground, a meeting place for gentlemen, the home of the Jockey club, and the place gentlemen recorded bets on racing and other bets

You could buy horses, carriages, hounds, harnesses — whatever a gentleman (or his lady, but ladies did NOT go to Tattersall’s) needed. And in Regency times, gentlemen visited on other days to place a bet on an upcoming race, or just to meet and chat. The Jockey Club met there, and moved with it to a later London location and then to Newmarket. Tattersall’s is still a leading bloodstock auctioneer, and still in Newmarket.

My hero in A Raging Madness had been a cavalry officer. Britain had no formal studs for breeding war horses. Instead, they bought their horses from civilian breeders. This meant the British cavalry rode horses bred to be hunters, race horses, and carriage horses—usually thoroughbreds or thoroughbred crosses. Each colonel bought the horses for his own regiment. In 1795, the regulations established a budget of thirty pounds for a light mount and forty for a heavy mount. This budget didn’t change for the rest of the war with France, despite wartime shortages.

Here Alex is telling his brother his plan:

“Father says you are planning to breed horses. For the army, Alex? Racing? What’s your plan?”

“Carriage and riding horses, we thought. I know more about training war horses, of course, but to breed them to be torn apart for the sins of men? I don’t have the heart for it. And there’s always a market for a good horse.”

Alex buys his first stallion from another cavalry office, Gil Rutledge, who is hero of The Realm of Silence, my current novel-in-progress (the third novel in

series.

****

More about horses

Geri Walton tells us about work horses, especially the heavy breeds. https://www.geriwalton.com/work-horses-in-the-regency-era/

Regency Redingote explains the origins of the term ‘blood horse’, and the pedigree of the General Stud Book. https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/the-english-blood-horse/

Regency Writing has a useful article on housing horses, and the work of a stable. http://regencywriter-hking.blogspot.co.nz/2013/07/eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century-horse.html

Shannon Donnelly’s Fresh Ink explains the many different uses of the horse in Regency England. https://shannondonnelly.com/2011/07/28/the-regency-horse-world/ This article also describes common carriage types, side saddles and riding habits.

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First lines on WIP Wednesday

Just for fun, let’s post the first paragraph of several chapters from our current work-in-progress. You pick the number of excerpts and which chapters. Mine are from The Realm of Silence, book 3 in The Golden Redepennings.

Chapter Two:

Four years since he had last crossed verbal swords with Susan Cunningham, and she looked no older. Did the infernal woman have the secret of an elixir of youth? She had been widowed long enough to be out of her blacks, and back into the blues she favoured: some concoction that was probably the height of fashion and that both hid and enhanced her not insubstantial charms.

Chapter Four:

The goddess fought him every inch of the way right through dinner, and went up to her room still determined to do without his support. Gil’s blood ran cold at the thought of her facing the perils of the road with none but her elderly groom to defend her safety and her honour. Especially a groom who would take bribes, as the man Lyons did when Gil found his room above the stables. Gil paid the old man to warn him when the goddess ordered her carriage, and set his own man to watching the groom.

Chapter Seven:

180 miles north, in Newcastle
“No dawdling,” Mam’selle Cornilac commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to reclothe her two unwelcome companions.

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I love research

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love research. I even love research when I have a perfectly delightful plot that falls apart when research proves it couldn’t have happened. Working out what might be historically probable instead, or at least plausible, has allowed me to drop down many an exciting rabbit hole into research wonderland.

For example, in  A Raging Madness, my hero Alex has a leg full of shrapnel, and is currently helping my heroine to escape from relatives who are determined to lock her up in an asylum for the mentally unwell.

Shrapnel? What kind of shrapnel? What munitions carried shrapnel at that time? What battles were they used in? How were shrapnel wounds treated? What was the long term prognosis? How about complications? And did they even call it shrapnel?

It took me a while to find a suitable battle, but eventually I put Alex the right place to be on the business end of a canister shell, a cannon ball with a weak outer shell filled with scrap metal. When the cannon fired, the shell burst apart, and a broad fan of metal caused devastation among the enemy troops. And, in my case, on the body of the assigned escort of a British diplomat who was observing the battle.

Ella, my heroine, was the daughter of an army doctor, and I figured she’d solve all of Alex’s problems by removing the shrapnel (and no, they didn’t call it that). But not so. Then, even more than now, removing shrapnel or even bullets (unless they are lead) was a very bad idea.

Even today, going in after a splinter of metal might cause more harm than good, and the world is full of people walking around with bomb fragments buried inside. Back then, with no antibiotics and no anaesthetics, the treatment of choice was to leave the mess alone.

Over time, one of three things would happen. The body and the shrapnel would adjust to one another. The body would reject the shrapnel, moving it piece by piece slowly out to the surface. An abscess would form, and the poisons from the infection would kill the patient unless someone acted to drain the abscess.

Hurrah! I had my intervention. Poor Alex developed an abscess.

But escape? Alex can barely walk, let alone ride. Ella is recovering from addiction to the laudanum that her relatives have been force-feeding her. (Another rabbit-hole: what does laudanum withdrawal look like? Feel like?)

I needed a plausible way for two such invalids to escape.

I chose a canal narrowboat for a number of reasons.

One: I loved the idea of the villains haring all over the countryside looking for them while they ran away by the slowest form of non-pedestrian transport ever invented.

Two: I’ve always wanted to go on a canal cruise, and this way I got to watch YouTube clips and call it working.

Three: By 1807, when my story is set, the canal network stretched from the Mersey (with access to Manchester and Liverpool) all the way to London. Travelling by narrowboat was feasible. Canals were a supremely profitable way to move goods in the early 19th century, and had been for a number of years. At a steady walking speed, a horse could move fifty times as much weight on a boat as it could on a road. The canals provided still water and tow paths to ease the travel, and locks, tunnels, and viaducts to overcome obstacles. Later, canal boats were mechanised, and later still the railways put the canals out of business. But in 1807, Alex and Ella hitched a lift with a charming Liverpool Irishman called Big Dan.

Four: I could put my hero and my heroine in close confines, calling themselves married, for five to six weeks. Not only did they have heaps of time to talk and even to succumb (or nearly succumb) to their mutual attraction, they were also in deep trouble (or Ella was) if anyone found out. They used false names. They stayed away from fashionable places. But even so, their novelist made sure that someone with no love for Alex saw enough to cause trouble.

Five: The time frame let Alex develop an abscess and recover from the operation, all before he needed to be on hand to save Ella when rumours spread about the two of them and their canal interlude.

And down the rabbit hole I went.

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Secondary characters on WIP Wednesday

I tend to write books with a sizable cast, though my short stories focus in on the two main characters. Even in those, though, the secondary characters are important to the story, and have their own histories and characteristics. Only the background characters are shadowy, there simply to carry a tray into the drawing room or hold a horse or run a message.

Today, I’m sharing a piece that focuses on a secondary character from The Realm of Silence. I’d love to see a secondary character from your WIP, in the comments. In my excerpt, the heroine’s daughter and her best friend share their doubts about their music mistress, and their pleasure in a new dress.

180 miles north, in Newcastle

“No dawdling,” Mam’selle commanded, setting a rapid pace through the busy market. For the first time on their travels, they had stopped for the day in the mid-afternoon, and Mam’selle had taken full advantage of several used-clothing vendors, determined to redress her two unwelcome companions.

“Which is further evidence that she is up to no good, Amy,” Pat insisted as they hung back as much as they dared. “She thinks we are being followed and wants to disguise us.” They had been sharing a coach with Mam’selle during the day, and a bedchamber at night, limiting their opportunities for conversation.

“I’m sure you’re right, but I will be pleased to have something other than school uniform to wear.” Amy shot a glance at her friend. Pat made a pretty boy: tall, even lanky in schoolboy pantaloons, and the hair left after she’d sacrificed her heavy mop for the mission had sprung into a thousand curls. “Don’t you want to wear a dress again?”

Mam’selle had reached the inn where she’d taken a bedchamber, and was waiting for them on the step.

Pat was shaking her head. “Not really. You have no idea how much easier it is to walk, and people treat you differently, as if you have at least half a brain. I may still be a child, but I’m a boy child, or so they think. I am to be encouraged, not stuffed into a box and tamped down, with all the bits that don’t fit to be worried at till they drop off.”

They had caught up with Mam’selle. “Come.” She led the way up the stairs from the main hall and along the labyrinth of halls and passages to the little room they’d been assigned. She spoke to a maid they passed on the way, and not long after they’d spread their purchases out on the shared bed that took up most of the room, hot water arrived.

Mam’selle clapped her hands. “First, we shall turn Master Pat into Miss Patrice again, n’est ce pas?”

Mam’selle had an eye, no doubt about it. The lilac figured-cotton dress was of a grown-up length, with only the tips of Pat’s sensible boots showing. With her lanky calves hidden, she suddenly looked willowy rather than coltish, the ribbon under her breasts hinting at a womanly shape that the straight lines of the school uniform had obscured. Mam’selle took to the butchered hair with scissors and several lengths of ribbon whose colour matched the flowers on the dress, and in a few moments the curls framed Pat’s face.

Amy loved Pat, but had always rather pitied her for her long face, square jaw, and decided nose. Suddenly, with the new hair style, all of these features fell into new proportions, and Pat looked almost pretty.

“There.” Mam’selle’s satisfied smile grew broader at Pat’s reaction when she looked at herself in the music teacher’s small hand mirror, then stood and twisted to try to take in her new finery.

“You look lovely, Pat,” Amy told her, looking forward to her own turn in Mam’selle’s magical hands.

The dress Mam’selle had chosen for her to wear today was a light green with narrow cream stripes. “It is a little long, Miss Amelia,” Mam’selle acknowledged, “but we three shall repair that fault, and meanwhile pins shall do for this evening, oui?” She deftly plaited and twisted Amy’s hair, pinning it high on her head and fastening it with some of Mam’selle’s own pins.

“So pretty,” Pat declared, and from what she could see in the mirror, Amy had to agree. “Thank you, Mam’selle.”

Mam’selle waved her away. “Now be seated, if you will, while I repair my own toilette. I have commanded a private parlour for le diner“.

“We could await you downstairs, Mam’selle,” Amy suggested, unsurprised when Mam’selle refused with uplifted brows and a sardonic curl of the lips. Amy and Pat had sought help York, insisting that they were being kidnapped by a French spy, but the officer they had approached had laughed, and taken them back to Mam’selle, sympathising with her for the imaginations of her charges.

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Backstory in WIP Wednesday

One of the most challenging skills in the writer’s arsenal involves the backstory. We need readers to know what led to the circumstances of the plot; what made the characters the way they are; what secrets they hide, perhaps even from themselves. But, by definition, the backstory is the events that happened before the story we’re telling. How much do we tell? How much ‘telling’ is going to disturb the flow? How can we weave backstory into our writing so that it illuminates rather than drowns?

So this week’s WIP Wednesday is for excerpts with backstory. I’ll show you mine, and you show me yours in the comments. I have two bits from The Realm of Silence, showing Gil’s and Susan’s relationship from each POV.

First, Gil:

The traffic thinned as they left the town, crossing the bridge into the country. Gil held his horse to the rear of the phaeton, giving silent thanks for the rain in the night that had laid the dust. He had little hope that staying out of Susan’s sight would lessen her ire. Any man would understand that he could not let a female relative of his oldest friends wander the roads of England on her own.

A female would not understand the duty a man had to his friends. And the goddess—her appeal in no way dimmed today by the carriage coat covering her curves—was very much a female. He would not revisit his reasons for insisting on escorting her. He’d spent long enough in the night cross-examining himself. Duty was reason enough, and the rest was irrelevant.

It was true that, for twenty-seven years, since she was a child of ten and he a mere two years older, he’d been prepared to move heaven and earth to be near her. It was also true that his heart lightened as he rode further from his responsibilities in the southwest. Not relevant. He was her brothers’ friend and her cousin’s, and therefore he would keep her from harm and help rescue her daughter.

And then Susan’s, several pages later.

“If you ride with me in the phaeton, we can discuss our strategy.” It would be a tight fit. The phaeton was not designed for three. Still, Lyons could go up behind. But Gil was shaking his head.

“No room. And your man won’t last half an hour on the footman’s perch. He should be retired, goddess.

“Don’t call me that!” He had made her childhood a misery with that nickname. One long summer of it, anyway. She had still worn the ridiculous name her parents had bestowed on her. Not just Athene, though that would have been bad enough. Joan Athene Boaducea. Jab, her brothers called her. But when Gil and two other boys had come home from school with Susan’s cousin Rede, Gil dubbed her ‘the goddess’. It had become Jab the Goddess, and she had been forced to take stern measures to win back the space to be herself.

She glared at him. To be fair, he had not been part of the tormenting; had even tried to stop it. But she could not forget that it was his mocking remark that set it off.

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Tea with Rede

Another excerpt post. Rede has been kicking his heels at Haverford Castle while waiting for his aunt to arrive home.  The book is Farewell to Kindness, and blurb and buy links  are at the link from the book title. The first two chapters are on my excerpts page.

The sun was setting on Saturday evening, and Rede was beside himself with frustration, before the Duchess of Haverford’s coach was finally seen tooling up the road to the castle. 

He was waiting when she entered the front door, and she greeted him with pleasure. “Rede, darling. What a lovely surprise. Have you been waiting for me long?  

“Such a circus in Deal. The electors were inclined to listen to the merchants, and the merchants did not favour Haverford’s man. Not at all.  

“So I had to visit every shop in the town and buy something. The carriage, I can assure you, is laden. But Haverford believes that it may have done the trick.  

“Just as well, dear, for I have enough Christmas presents for every one of my godchildren for the next three years. And some of them are not of the best quality, I can assure you.” 

She was talking as she ascended the stairs, giving her cloak to a maid as she passed, her bonnet to a footman, and her reticule to another maid. 

“You want something, I expect. Well, you shall tell me all about it at dinner. I left most of the food I purchased at the orphanage in Margate, but I kept a pineapple for dessert. Such fun, my dear, have you tried one?” 

“No, dear aunt,” he managed to say, sliding his comment in as she paused to give her gloves to yet another maid. Or it may have been the first maid again. 

“Well, today you shall. Join me in the dining room in—shall we say one hour?” And she sailed away towards her apartments, leaving him, as always, feeling as if he had been assaulted by a friendly and affectionate hurricane. 

Over dinner, he laid all honestly before her. Well, perhaps not all. The lovely widow, betrayed by George, the three sisters, the little daughter. No need to mention that he’d played fast and loose himself with the lady’s virtue. Just that he needed to rehabilitate her. Just that he wanted to marry her and she had refused. 

“She has refused you, Rede?” Her Grace was surprised. “But you are handsome, wealthy and charming. And rich. What does she object to?” 

Rede hadn’t been able to work it out, either. “I know she cares for me, Aunt Eleanor. But she keeps saying no. The first time—to be honest, the first time I made a disaster of it. I told her… I gave her the impression that I only wanted her for a wife because she was too virtuous to be my mistress.” 

Her Grace gave a peal of laughter. “Oh Rede, you didn’t.” 

“I’m afraid I did. But the second time I assured her I wanted her for my Countess.” 

“And you told her you loved her,” the Duchess stated. 

“No. Not exactly. I told her I wanted to keep her safe. I told her I wanted to protect her.” 

“I see. And I suppose you think if you bring her into society, she will consent to marry you?” 

“I don’t know, aunt. I only know that she deserves a better life than stuck in a worker’s cottage in the back of nowhere working as a teacher so she can one day give her sister a decent life. If she won’t have me… Well, she has been to see a lawyer about a small inheritance she has coming. I thought perhaps I could make it a bit bigger. Without her knowing.” 

“You do love her,” said the Duchess, with great satisfaction. 

“Yes, but… Yes.” There were no buts. He loved her. At least he hadn’t told her so. He had no taste for laying his heart on the floor for her to walk on. 

“You need to tell her so.” The Duchess echoed and denied his thinking, all in one short sentence. “She is probably afraid you are marrying her out of a misplaced sense of duty. You are far too responsible, Rede.” 

“No, she couldn’t think that. Could she?” 

“Who knows? Well, I will do it. I cannot have my niece-in-law having her babies in scandal. I take it there is the possibility of a baby? You would not be feeling so guilty otherwise.” 

Rede was without a response for a long moment, finally huffing a laugh. “Aunt Eleanor, a hundred years ago you would have burnt as a witch,” he told her. 

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