Monday, 26 December 2011

Poll Results: Social interaction tops Jane Austen fascination

The result of the polls are here. Well, we all knew that Jane Austen's gentlemen are bound to win out, but in fact the poll reveals that the gentlemen have competition.

In answer to the question: What do you think is so appealing about Jane Austen's world? The top choice is split two ways, with an even 50% each
The gentlemanly behavior of the heroes
The rules of social interaction
In answer to the question: What do you like most about Jane Austen? The top choice with an overwhelming 75% was
Her characters
Followed by 50%
Her sense of humor
Thanks to those of you who participated. What do you think of the results?

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Friday, 16 December 2011

Jane Austen Lives! Happy Birthday!

Think about it. How many people – men or women – have birthday celebrations 236 years after they were born?? Yet today blogs all over the Blogosphere are celebrating Jane Austen’s Birthday.
For Jane Austen’s Birthday, and to remember the wonderful joy she has given us, here are a couple of polls for you to vote on.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Dinner with the Indomitable Dominique Raccah

The Indomitable Dominique
The exclusive world of Gentlemen’s Clubs was invaded by a most wonderful group last night – the Sourcebooks British Book Brigade, which was almost exclusively female. Of course the Reform Club is no longer exclusively male, but looking around, with Henry James and Thackeray’s portraits – to name just two former members -- staring down at us, we could be excused for thinking so. During the Victorian period it would have been sacrilege to pass through these doors, yet here we were, with the Indomitable Dominique Raccah as our fearless leader. It’s a fitting image for the publishing world itself – with pioneers like Dominique heading publishing companies that have traditionally been male-dominated.

Being at the Reform club inevitably brings up snippets from the past. Virginia Woolf wrote about “so audaciously trespassing” as a woman on university turf, and being stopped by a Beadle : “he was a Beadle; I was a woman. This was the turf; there was the path. Only the Fellows and Scholars are allowed here; the gravel is the place for me.”

If you’ve seen the film Out of Africa I’m sure you’ll remember the scene where Karen von Blixen (author Isak Dineson) is escorted out of the exclusive gentlemen’s club.
Thackeray looking bemused at this group of female authors

The dark polished wood, the gilt-edged panelling and the male portraits everywhere brings up in me these and other images from women's past. I can’t help thinking of the past because the Reform Club is a spectacular reminder of bygone times. But of course it’s also a tribute to reform, as its name testifies. It was here that great politicians and thinkers of the last two centuries discussed their plans to re-make history and re-imagine the world –  from figures such as Gladstone,  to J. M. Barrie, E.M. Forster and H.G. Wells.

Being able to step onto that “turf” from which we as women were once barred is a wonderful thing. It makes being in the Reform Club as a member of Sourcebooks, a publishing company committed to women writers, a very special thing. What a wonderful space to celebrate the achievements of women since the beginning of the twentieth century.
Phillipa Ashley and Francesca Simon
Gabrielle Kimm, Jane Odiwe, Amanda Grange
Though I’ll admit it. This wasn't the only thing on my mind yesterday, as the champagne flowed, the fireplace flickered, laughter rang out and conversation danced merrily around the table. 

Friday, 28 October 2011

The End of Spooks

Was so upset at the idea that we had reached the last-ever Spooks episode that I actually relinquished my Sunday evening date with Downton Abbey to watch Spooks instead. Imagine that! Those of you who know me are probably quite surprised at this  since I'm not at all into spy films, and generally don't go for the James Bond type action drama if I can choose something else.

Yet the end (and ending) of Spooks left me heartbroken. Even the much-awaited (re)appearance of Matthew Macfadyen as Quinn failed to compensate for the fact that it was all over.

The only consolation is that since I didn't see the first four seasons, which I am told were the best, I will now be watching the whole thing from the beginning on DVD. That way I will get the opportunity to relish the wonderful cast -- and period drama favorites -- that take turns to play MI5 agents. Apart from Matthew Macfadyen, I'm looking forward to seeing Rupert Penry-Jones and Richard Armitage (although I did see Armitage play Lucas).

Monday, 10 October 2011

Official Launch of Jane Austen Made Me Do It Tomorrow!

It’s finally happening! Tomorrow is the official launch of Jane Austen Made Me Do It!

“Nothing Less Than Fairy-land,” by Monica Fairview
In this gently humorous story inspired by Jane Austen’s novel Emma, the day has come for Mr. Knightley to move into Hartfield, but Mr. Woodhouse is still not reconciled to the marriage. Trouble looms on the horizon, unless Emma can quickly come up with a way to convince her papa to accept Mr. Knightley’s presence.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Unexpected Encounter with a Victorian Gentleman

Sometimes a visit to a park can have unexpected consequences. So imagine my surprise when I went to an Apple Day at Morden Hall Park and – quite literally – bumped into an exceedingly fashionable young gentleman! My mind reeled as I tried to work out if he was real or the ghost of Mr.Gilliat Hatfeild, owner of the Park in the 1800s. Then my young daughter shouted out “Mr. Darcy! Take a picture, quick!” and I am happy to say I obeyed.

Morden Hall does have an intriguing history. It’s a National Trust property that used to be a former snuff mill, complete with waterwheel, picturesque canals and a mulberry tree that reportedly was planted by Huguenots. I won’t go into it now, but I promise a future episode on this lovely historical park.

Isn't he a handsome specimen? It just shows. You never know when (or where) you could run into your Mr. Darcy!

Monday, 19 September 2011

For Love or War: The Downton Abbey Experience Episode 1

The drums of war beat, and the drama rolls. The first episode of Downton Abbey begins with a bang as we are treated with an unsentimental view of the First World War. Times are a’changing, but not for the better certainly, as a generation of young men ge
ts decimated. Still, Downton Abbey drew the heavy guns as it not only managed to divert viewers’ attention away from Spooks, which was airing at the same time, but also captured four Emmy awards as well, the very same night. What fanfare!!
It was wonderful to be back in the world of Downton Abbey. The cruelty of war features heavily in this episode, not only to those who go to fight, but to those who are left behind who are made to feel inadequate because they are not fighting. One of my favourite scenes – nicely underplayed – involved a White Feather Girl who give Branson a white feather (symbolizing cowardice).
 Still, this episode of Downton Abbey isn’t just about the havoc wreaked by the WWI. It’s about the same problems and the same people we got to know in Season one. Needless to say, love is  trembling on the lips of more than one character, even if not on Matthew’s, who is engaged to be married to a certain Lavinia Swire.
Blackmail and the threat of scandal still hangs over the Abbey like a giant crow, and those who were nasty last season are still as deliciously nasty as ever. Without giving away any spoilers for my friends in the USA, I can promise them that the drama continues much as it did last time, with Mr. Bates playing the sacrificial victim, Lady Sibyl as restless and unconventional as ever, and the indomitable Dower Countess as — indomitable as ever.
A very satisfying beginning, with lots packed in. Bring on the next one. 

Monday, 12 September 2011

It boggles the writer's imagination

Loved this picture at  Just For Social Networkerz so had to re-post. It appeals to my writer's imagination. It seems like a map of my mind -- with all the gaps in it that I'm always wanting to fill.

borrowed from Just for Social Networkerzzz
I love those empty spaces -- the in-betweens, so to speak (nothing to do with the film by the same name) -- the ones you have to work to bridge. Because that's what writing is all about. It's about seeing something missing it, and wanting to fill that void with pictures or images. That's how Jane Austen sequels work. We spot something missing in Jane Austen's narrative, or we want to take a character further, or we are struck by something that a character didn't say or articulate fully, and we want to furnish it ourselves.

Jumping across empty spaces has its pluses. But the writer is like a chivalrous gentleman who offers his cloak to enable the lady to cross the puddle without getting wet. We weave something to fill the gap and enable others to cross enjoyably.

Okay, this is very fanciful for a Monday morning. So I'll just say I really loved the photo and leave the rest to your imagination.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Austen Authors Celebration



On September 6, 2010 Austen Authors officially launched.
Our group blog has continued to grow ever since and now we are approaching our first birthday.
In the tradition of all great celebrations, we plan to party!
Not for one day, not for two or three, but for….
From Monday September 5 all the way through Saturday September 10 we will be serving up the virtual treats and lighting the virtual fireworks.
The itinerary is jam packed with fun blogs and awesome prizes.
Don’t miss out on the fun!! Ask others to join in!
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Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Other Mr Darcy Now available on Kindle UK

I'm pleased to announce that The Other Mr Darcy is finally available via I know many of you have been waiting for this moment!

This is the Hale edition that has been published through The Faber Factory. I'm thrilled to be part of this project.

Monday, 15 August 2011

More Lavender for your senses

As you enjoy the pictures (below), you can also listen to a song that will sound very familiar, performed by English folk singer Jackie Oates at Gloucester Cathedral.  

  • Isn't her voice enchanting? It shows what you can do with a simple melody. I wonder if Jane Austen used to wander around as a child in the Surrey lavender fields and hum this melody to herself?
  • Now that both vision and hearing have been stimulated, let's move on to the olfactory buds that are clamoring for attention.  
  • Here's a recipe for Lavender Shortbread Biscuits (Cookies) that someone recommended to me. I've loved shortbread biscuits since I learned how to make them at school. My favorite part of making shortbread was the magical moment when the dough finally turned into breadcrumbs. It gave me a sense of remarkable achievement. I thought of myself as an artist, a creator, transforming clay into something else. Never mind that the "breadcrumbs" themselves weren't much to look at!
  • I like the fact that the recipe calls for both mint and lavender. I love both, which makes the recipe especially appealing. 
  • Let me know if you try them before I do.

from Maryeileen
  • 350g butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 4 tablespoons sifted icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lavender
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 325g plain flour
  • 65g cornflour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, caster sugar and icing sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the lavender, mint and lemon zest. Combine the flour, cornflour and salt; mix into the butter and sugar mixture until well blended. Divide dough into two balls, wrap in clingfilm and flatten to about 2.5cm thick. Refrigerate until firm, about 1hour.
Preheat the oven to 170 C / Gas mark 3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 6mm in thickness. Cut into shapes with scone or biscuit cutters. Biscuit stamps will work well on these too. Place on baking trays.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes in the preheated oven, just until biscuits begin to brown at the edges. Cool for a few minutes on the baking trays then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Click on the image below to go to the website of Mayfield farms and read the fascinating story of how the field was revived. 
Are you fond of lavender, as Jane Austen's friend Martha Lloyd was? What do you use it for?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Lavender Fields Forever

It's the height of the lavender season and what a relief it is to spot a sea of flowing blue-purple on an undulating hillside not too far from Croydon, which achieved notoriety in the news this week as fires raged and looting and rioting became the order of the day. 

The Surrey Downs (the foothills, not the real downs) are an ocean of calm after the nervous tension of the week. There is something hypnotic and heady about walking about with lavender surrounding me as far as my eye can see. A magnificent calm descends over me. Sight and aroma combine to cast a much needed soothing spell, smoothing away the jitters. I weave in and out of the neat rows, smiling at others who clearly feel the same.  
This is one of the charms of the English countryside (even if this field is more urban than country). A sign points to the field with the words Public Footpath (or it could have been Bridleway, same thing, since I don't ride). This means, ultimately, that you're allowed to ramble all over the place.
There's some comfort, too, in knowing that lavender grew in the same location through the 18th and 19th century right until the late Victorian era. In fact large segments of the area I live in were once swathed with lavender fields. What a sight it must have been!
My gran's knitted hanger w/lavender. Her own lacework
Unfortunately, with the growth of the perfume industry, the simple aroma of lavender was rejected as too homegrown and simple. It came to be associated with the Victorians (and the Edwardians) and times past, conjuring  images of old fashioned cupboards, knitted hangers with lavendar bags. Or posies and handkerchiefs sprinkled in lavender to cover the rank smell of sewage when heavy rain flooded the streets of the old industrial cities. My grandmother -- who died last year at the grand old age of almost 101 -- certainly used them to ward off moths. 

As civilization grew more complex and sophisticated, simple perfumes like lavender were regarded with contempt. With advertisements hawking expensive perfumes to stimulate your sexual appeal , poor lavender with its association as a moth repellent (even more old-fashioned than moth balls) didn't stand a chance. Lavender was consigned to a dusty and forgotten attic. The lavender fields all but disappeared into the history books.

Luckily, a very few persisted, indifferent to the coming and going of fashions, and a few were revived. Mayfield is one, as is the Carshalton Lavender Project, which is working to bring back Carshalton Lavender to its former glory. Carshalton Lavender is considered once of the finest lavenders in the world.

Which is why I was able to take a friend visiting from the US to see the glorious (and organic) Mayfields, lying in a blaze of purple on a small hillside.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Perspectives on Mr. Darcy

Click on image above to visit the Extravaganza
As part of the month-long Austenesque Extravagnaza over at Austenesque Reviews, I've written a post for Spotlight Saturday along with a small challenge for those of you who like to see Mr. Darcy from different points of view. I'd be very happy to see you there -- I'm sure you can contribute a great deal to the discussion.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Return of the Native -- I'm back!

There's something to be said about coming home.

Of course, I haven't left my wonderful friends at Austen Authors behind. On the contrary. After almost a year together I couldn't do without them. You can still find me there, but I'll be travelling hither and thither, dipping a big toe here, a big toe there (and some little ones, too).

Not much of a landscape
I haven't chosen my toes metaphor randomly. In fact, toes are rather important to me at the moment, since I broke my leg and had it suspended in a cast right in front of me for a long time. This gave me time to contemplate the universe and the nature of toes. It was the first time I wondered why we have toenails (other than for something to paint), and why they didn't disappear some time during our evolution, since we hardly hang by our toenails any more. Nor do we use them to fight (like claws), to dig the ground for grub, or make holes to bury our cache of nuts. You'd think nature would have done away with them by now. After all, if our tails -- which were considerably bigger -- could drop off, why not our toenails?
Not my toes, alas!

I suppose they may function as protection. Remember the last time you dropped that hammer on your toes? Lucky you had toenails or it would have been a lot worse.

Still, they weren't any use when I broke my leg, so we're back to the original question.

As you can see, during my absence I have been engaged in extremely profound reflections.