The Bacton Altar Cloth

Last Friday I attended a service of rededication and songs of praise in honour of the altar cloth at St Faith’s church, Bacton, in Herefordshire. That might sound a bit weird, but this was something that had to be done because the altar cloth in question isn’t the original one, it’s a facsimile – the original is at Hampton Court being restored by a team of textile specialists, a job which will apparently take something like 1000 hours (or 18 months)!

Some of you may have already heard the story of how this altar cloth was discovered last year and was found to be something extraordinarily special.  For over a hundred years it had hung on the wall of St Faith’s, a tiny village church that dates back to the 1500s, and before that it had been used to cover the altar until a new, bigger one, was installed.  It looked like nothing more than a grubby piece of material, in dull and faded colours, and cut into a strange T-shape.  Most of the parishioners probably hardly glanced at it whenever they attended a service.

St Faiths and Bacton village are, however, connected with royalty, sort of.  Queen Elizabeth I’s ‘Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber’ and confidante was someone called Blanche Parry, and she was born in this tiny village.  She wanted to be buried there too, but the queen decreed otherwise and kept her in London (she’s buried at St Margaret’s, Westminster), so St Faith’s has a monument to her instead, which she’d commissioned herself, thinking she was going to retire there.  And at some point, probably after Blanche’s death, the little church was also given an amazing gift – the altar cloth.  Except that’s not what it was originally.

A local historian and some of the parishioners eventually realised that it hadn’t always been an altar cloth, and textile expert Eleri Lynn, curator of historic dress at Historic Royal Palaces, now believes it was part of one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses.  Possibly even the skirt of the one she is wearing in the famous Rainbow Portrait.  Because when the material was sent for restoration, it was discovered that it’s made from cloth of silver with the most exquisite and detailed embroidery, all done on this one piece of material.  (In Tudor times, apparently most embroidery was done on separate pieces which were later affixed to the clothing, but that wasn’t the case here).  The wearing of cloth of silver was restricted by law at that time (the sumptuary laws) and only the monarch herself or immediate members of the royal family were allowed to use it.  Since the material dates from the last decade of the sixteenth century, that meant only one person could have owned it – Elizabeth herself. There were no other royals at that time.

Eleri Lynn attended the rededication service and told us how finding this piece of one of Elizabeth’s dresses was, to her, like finding the Holy Grail.  She said that if anyone had ever asked her what she would most like to find, this was it.  There are hardly any pieces of clothing left from Tudor royals, only what is assumed to be one of Henry VIII’s hats.  Of Elizabeth I’s vast wardrobe there was nothing until now – so this is the only surviving item.  Eleri had brought along another facsimile of the altar cloth, which we were allowed to take a closer look at after the service.  It was fascinating to see the botanical pattern up close.  She also showed us photos of some parts which have been restored already, and the difference was incredible!  Instead of the dull and faded colours, there were the most vivid blues, greens and yellows.  Amazingly beautiful!

The piece of cloth will eventually go on display when it has all been restored (a massive job, as I said) and I can’t wait to see it in all its glory.  It’s going to be magnificent!

I love when discoveries such as these are made – so exciting!

The RoNA Awards 2017 – Shortlistings!

As I’ve been away, I’m a bit late posting about this, but I was absolutely over the moon to find out that not just one, but TWO of my books have been shortlisted for this years RoNAs!

The RoNAs are the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual awards for excellence in romantic fiction, and this year they comprise seven categories (one more than last year).  My novel The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight is shortlisted in the newest category, Paranormal, as it features ghosts and other paranormal phenomena, and it’s lovely to be one of the first books acknowledged in this way.  I’m up against some great RNA friends of mine – Jan Jones, Kate Johnson and Hywela Lyn – and it will be very exciting to see which one of us triumphs on the night.

New England Dreams by Pia FentonAs if that wasn’t wonderful enough, New England Dreams, written under my own name, has been shortlisted in the Young Adult category.  I’m really pleased about this as it was self-published and this is the first time the RNA has allowed independently published books to feature on the shortlists.  I may also be the first author to be shortlisted under two different names in the same year (?!), which would be an added bonus.

The awards event will be held on Monday 13th March and whatever happens I know it will be a fun evening – can’t wait!

 

Guest Interview – Kirsty Ferry

Today I have as my guest fellow Choc Lit author Kirsty Ferry, whose latest book The Girl in the Photograph (the third book in her Rossetti Mysteries series) has just been published as an ebook, while the second book in the series, The Girl in the Painting is now out in paperback.  I’ve had the privilege of reading an advance copy of this novel and I can highly recommend it – it’s a wonderful time slip story!

Here’s a Q & A with Kirsty to tell us a bit more about it:-

The books in this trilogy all feature Pre-Raphaelite or Victorian artists – what first drew them to your attention and have you studied them at uni (you are very knowledgeable about Victorian art)? – I think the thing that drew me to them initially was when I read about Dante Gabriel Rossetti digging up Lizzie Siddal’s body and raiding her coffin to retrieve a book of poems he’d buried with her. I started researching a little bit more just out of morbid curiosity really, and the more I found out, the more fascinated I became. I wrote a short story called The Other Ophelia which was a YA ghost story where a young lad was recreating the famous Millais Ophelia painting and the ghost of Rossetti didn’t like it. What actually happened in real life, is that Lizzie lay freezing in a bath of cold water while Millais painted her, and she became very ill – and the public turned her into a sort of Gothic, idealised, Victorian ‘celebrity’. Beyond all that you have this overriding, quite dangerous, obsessive passion between her and Rossetti. I filed the short story away for a few years, then pulled it out again when I decided to write The Girl in the Painting. I’d read some of Rossetti’s poems by then, and was struck by Sudden Light, which is all about soulmates. Some Veil Did Fall was based on that poem, The Girl in the Painting was inspired by Lizzie and The Girl in the Photograph by Pre-Raphaelite photography – another art form that took the world by storm. I studied a little bit of art history during my degree but would love to take it further. Everything else was gleaned by good old-fashioned research and reading. You should see the pile of books I acquired!

I’m particularly fond of Millais’ paintings, but also like other Victorian artists, especially Lord Leighton. Who is your favourite? – I love the Pre-Raphaelites of course, but some of Rossetti’s work is quite wild and slapdash when you compare it with the perfection of Millais! I am also a huge fan of the Impressionists and could stare at Degas’ ballerina pictures for hours. And John Singer Sargent did some fabulous work – but he was a little later, and more of an Edwardian artist, I suppose.

If you could own one painting from that era which one would you choose?  (Not sure I could choose one as there are so many amazing ones!) – Ohhhh – what a choice! Can I just own the Tate Gallery? If pushed I’d have to say Millais Ophelia was up there, naturally, or I might have to expand the timeline slightly and go for Edward Robert Hughes Midsummer Eve, which is a gorgeous piece of ‘fairy art’ from about 1908. That’s actually a really tough question! But do you know, Landseer’s Dignity and Impudence would be wonderful – Google it. It’s two dogs in a kennel and the little one is so cheeky!

Photographic plates

This novel also deals with photography – did you have to do a lot of research about this?  Have you tried it yourself? – I love old photographs and again did plenty of reading about the Pre-Raphaelite side of it, and especially about Julia Margaret Cameron for The Girl in the Photograph. Lorelei was a perfect heroine to team up with my Edwardian photographer – all she ever wanted to do was have a photograph taken of her. It’s something we take for granted nowadays.

Photographic plates

I also visited Lacock Abbey, which was the home of Henry Fox Talbot, an innovative Victorian photographer, and I saw the window which exists in the first photographic negative. At Lacock there were some astonishing statistics of the amount of pictures we take now to the amount they took then – it’s very thought-provoking. I had a lovely camera when I was in my early twenties. Then my Dad dismantled it for some reason and I was left with a working light-meter and nothing else. He kindly held the meter up and demonstrated how it still worked, but that was no use to me at all! I’ve tinkered with things like Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro and have taken some really nice photographs unexpectedly; but again it’s something I’d like to pursue further. Maybe one day!

Do you have any old photos you can share with us? – When I was researching photographic plates I fell in love with something on eBay from America – these original Edwardian glass photo plates. I have no idea who the people are, but had to buy them. I took them to work and one of the technicians scanned them into a machine for me and the pictures you see here are the result.

Kirsty’s Grandma

I’ve also got this lovely little one of my Grandma. I think it was a school photo, and it’s tiny as you can see by the pencil I put next to it – I suspect she was just cut out of a group shot. She was born in 1909, so it’s quite an old one. The original is all cracked and damaged, so I scanned it in and spent hours cleaning it up with Paint Shop Pro. Then I printed out a new copy for me and one for my mum. It really is one of my most precious possessions.

Many thanks, Kirsty! I love the old photos and photo plates, amazing what you can find on eBay. Happy publication for The Girl in the Photograph!

Bio:-

Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale ‘Enchantment’. Her timeslip novel, Some Veil Did Fall, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, The Girl in the Painting in February 2016 and now The Girl in the Photograph (March 2017). The experience of signing ‘Some Veil Did Fall’ in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person, was one of the highlights of her writing career so far! Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.

You can find out more about Kirsty and her work at www.rosethornpress.co.ukcatch her on her Facebook Author Page or follow her on Twitter @kirsty_ferry.

THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPH

What if the past was trying to teach you a lesson?

Staying alone in the shadow of an abandoned manor house in Yorkshire would be madness to some, but art enthusiast Lissy de Luca can’t wait. Lissy has her reasons for seeking isolation, and she wants to study the Staithes Group – an artists’ commune active at the turn of the twentieth century.

Lissy is fascinated by the imposing Sea Scarr Hall – but the deeper she delves, the stranger things get. A lonely figure patrols the cove at night, whilst a hidden painting leads to a chilling realisation. And then there’s the photograph of the girl; so beautiful she could be a mermaid … and so familiar.

As Lissy further immerses herself, she comes to an eerie conclusion: The occupants of Sea Scarr Hall are long gone, but they have a message for her – and they’re going to make sure she gets it. 

Christmas Wishes

fu-message

An Afternoon at Ystrad Mynach Library

Chris, Evonne and me

Chris, Evonne and me

Travelling through the Welsh valleys on a beautiful autumn day is amazing and yesterday I had a great excuse for doing just that – I was heading for Ystrad Mynach in South Wales to do a library talk together with my fellow Choc Lit authors Chris Stovell and Evonne Wareham.

Ystad Mynach library has recently been refurbished and it was looking fab!  Just the sort of place I love to go to browse the shelves and find reading gems.  We were given a very warm welcome by the lovely librarians (including one from another nearby library) and then joined by the audience who had come to hear us talk about “Heroes, Heroines and Happy Endings”.

Chris in sailing gear

Chris in sailing gear

It all felt very informal, like chatting to friends, and we covered all sorts of topics/questions.  Among other things we talked about our research and Chris demonstrated why trying to write a romantic scene with your hero and heroine wearing sailing gear and life jackets might not be such a good idea!  Not impossible, but certainly not easy.

We all write different sub-genres, different heroes, and our opinions on happy endings were similar but not quite the same, but the main ingredient is of course the romance and being left feeling upbeat and positive after reading – we all agreed on that.

All in all, we had a wonderful afternoon and hope to go back again soon – thank you so much to the staff and everyone who came to our talk!

(PS. Many thanks to Alex for allowing me to use her photos in this blog post!)

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The lovely Ystrad Mynach librarians

The lovely Ystrad Mynach librarians

Librarian Helen from nearby Oakdale library

Librarian Helen from nearby Oakdale library

ystradtable

 

Nottingham and Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft

Sue Moorcroft

Yesterday I spent the day in Nottingham in order to attend my lovely friend Sue Moorcroft’s book launch for her latest novel – The Christmas Promise.  (A fantastic read – kept me up till the early hours as I couldn’t stop reading it!)  Waterstones in Nottingham have a wonderful event space and we had a perfect evening, listening to a reading by Sue followed by a Q & A session.  Sue’s heroine is a milliner so she wore a fantastic little cocktail hat made specially for her and some of the rest of us wore hats too.  And to fit in with the theme of the book, the events manager declared the Christmas season officially started at the shop!

Sue signing her new novel

Sue signing her new novel

While waiting for this evening event, I wandered round the city as I’d never been before.  Being a history buff, my first destination was of course the castle where Charles I started the English Civil War by raising his royal standard on 22nd August 1642.  Sadly though, there didn’t seem to be much left of the castle he would have known as most of it was razed to the ground and another house built within the castle walls instead later on.  (That, in turn, was badly damaged by fire during riots in the 1800s).  I was disappointed to find so little mention of Charles and the war, mostly just a plaque put up by the Sealed Knot on the 350th anniversary of that August day and what I assumed was supposed to be a reference to Charles’s children on a pub sign – ‘The Royal Children’.  (Whoever painted that had obviously never seen Van Dyck’s portraits of the king’s offspring!)

photo3The view from the castle grounds was fantastic though – if a bit scary for those of us who don’t like heights – and underneath were caves (which I didn’t have a chance to look at this time).  And there was plenty of shopping to be had in the city centre, including a shop with my name on it – perfect!

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Statue of Robin Hood - not modelled on Kevin Costner!

Statue of Robin Hood – not modelled on Kevin Costner!

The entrance to the castle

The entrance to the castle

A fantastic model of what the castle originally looked like

A fantastic model of what the castle originally looked like

The view over the city from the castle grounds

The view over the city from the castle grounds

Looking down ... (eeek!)

Looking down … (eeek!)

... and looking up (better!)

… and looking up (better!)

 

The plaque commemorating the raising of the royal standard

The plaque commemorating the raising of the royal standard

A quirky house opposite the castle

A quirky house opposite the castle

Part of the castle walls

Part of the castle walls

The oldest inn in England according to the sign (situated just below the castle)

The oldest inn in England according to the sign (situated just below the castle)

The royal children?

The royal children?

And finally - my hat (photo courtesy of John Jackson)

And finally – my hat (photo courtesy of John Jackson)

Publication Day for THE VELVET CLOAK OF MOONLIGHT

velvet-cloak-_front5Today is publication day for The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight at last and I’m so pleased it’s finally out there!  This was one of those novels that was “brewing” in my mind for a long time before I actually started it so it feels like it’s been a long time coming, but I hope readers will enjoy the end result.

Here is the blurb:

“As the velvet cloak of moonlight settled over the ruined towers of Raglan Castle, the shadows beneath them stirred …”

When newly widowed Tess visits Raglan Castle, she experiences an extraordinary vision that transports her to seventeenth-century Wales and a castle on the brink of a siege.

Even when Tess leaves Raglan to return to Merrick Court, her late husband’s home, the strange dreams continue as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the past. And when the new owner of the estate arrives – New Zealander Josh Owens – the parallels become even more obvious.

But perhaps the visions aren’t just trying to tell their own story, maybe they’re also giving a warning …

Raglan Castle is a very special and magical place – if you’re ever passing by, do stop for a visit if you have the time as it’s well worth it.  The people who defended it so valiantly during the final siege in 1646 must have been very special too and I hope I’ve done them justice!

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle

Raglan Castle - Oriel Window

Raglan Castle – Oriel Window

Raglan Castle - The New Gate

Raglan Castle – The New Gate

r-tower-from-inside

HNS Conference – Oxford 2016

photo(2)Just back from the 2016 Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference in Oxford where I had a wonderful time, as always!

The venue was superb in a truly beautiful city and I was lucky enough to have time for a quick wander round when I arrived on the Friday afternoon.  I had a look at some of the famous colleges – including one with a fierce-looking porter/guard wearing a bowler hat! – and then managed a lightning tour of the Ashmolean Museum.  I’ve wanted to see King Alfred’s jewel for ages and although it was a bit smaller than I’d expected, it was lovely.  Plus they had a lot of other interesting objects and paintings as well – I will have to go back some day for a longer visit.photo(6)

Once the conference itself got going there was no time for sight-seeing – we were kept busy with some fantastic talks, panels and workshops, and among the main speakers were Melvyn Bragg and Tracy Chevalier, both excellent.

Shield maiden? I wish!

Shield maiden? I wish!

Of the workshops, I particularly enjoyed the one led by Paula Lofting and her Regia Anglorum friends where we were taught how to build a shield wall when fighting like Anglo-Saxons.  This was fascinating stuff and I was really pleased to have a chance to hold a battle axe and a shield, both quite heavy!  (Am now also very tempted to shout ‘Ut! Ut! Ut!’ all the time LOL)

I also loved the workshop on secret Stuart marriages by Nicola Cornick and Andrea Zuvich, and the panel talk about historical YA fiction featuring C C Humphreys, Deborah Swift and Simon Scarrow.

The ‘gala’ dinner was great, with a costume pageant and a brilliant after-dinner speech by C W Gortner.  And meeting up with old friends and making new ones is always fun and I very much enjoyed chatting to various people, lots of whom had come all the way from the US – so lovely to meet them!  My thanks go to the fantastic organising committee who, I know, had worked incredibly hard to put together the programme and they made sure everything was seamless.  Huge thanks also to my workshop ‘partner’ and fellow Swede Anna Belfrage who made our own workshop run smoothly and put together our presentation.  Can’t wait for the next conference now!

Here are some of the photos I took:-

One of the very knowledgeable Regia Anglorum re-enactors (Anglo-Saxon)

One of the very knowledgeable Regia Anglorum re-enactors (Anglo-Saxon)

Ut! Ut! Ut!

Ut! Ut! Ut!

The Ashmolean

The Ashmolean

King Alfred's jewel in the spotlights

King Alfred’s jewel in the spotlights

Another gorgeous jewel

Another gorgeous jewel

Detail from a Japanese silk painting

Detail from a Japanese silk painting

A lovely Japanese inro in the museum's collection

A lovely Japanese inro in the museum’s collection

Couldn't resist the Pre-Raphaelite paintings

Couldn’t resist the Pre-Raphaelite paintings

Loved this fierce Egyptian bird!

Loved this fierce Egyptian bird!

Detail from a Dutch painting in the museum's collection

Detail from a Dutch painting in the museum’s collection

Part of St Anne's College where we were staying

Part of St Anne’s College where we were staying

One of the beautiful doors of St Anne's College

One of the beautiful doors of St Anne’s College

Chippenham Lit Fest

I had a fantastic time last night at the Chippenham Library, taking part in a panel talk which in turn was part of the Chippenham Lit Fest.  It’s always lovely to get together with fellow RNA members and much more fun when you’re not alone doing a talk!

There were six of us – Nicola Cornick, Louise Douglas, Alison Knight, Jean Burnett, Teresa F Morgan and myself – on the panel.  There were some fab questions from the librarian in charge and also from the audience, and it’s always fun to hear the varying answers of so many authors – we’re all so different in the way we approach things!

There was delicious home-made cake and other refreshments, and lots of chatting afterwards.  All in all, a really enjoyable event so huge thanks to everyone who took part and organised it!

Here are some of my photos:-

The librarians

The librarians

Me and Rosemary Ann Smith

Me and Rosemary Ann Smith

photo(4)

Alison Knight - organiser extraordinaire

Alison Knight – organiser extraordinaire

All the panelists (courtesy of Nicola) - from left to right - Teresa, Alison, Louise, me, Jean and Nicola

All the panellists (courtesy of Nicola) – from left to right – Teresa, Alison, Louise, me, Jean and Nicola

An Author’s Apprentice

Have just had a fabulous week with my Swedish “apprentice”, Adam!  We’ve had fun going round London in search of ideas, inspiration, settings and characters and I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did 🙂 photo(3)

In Sweden, teenagers get to have a week at the end of year 8 where they go out into a workplace to see what it’s like to do different jobs – preferably the sort they think they might like to pursue as a career in the future.  They get to try out various aspects and really find out what a job entails, which I think is great.  Either they’ll love it or they can see it’s not for them, but whatever happens it’s important and a great opportunity.

Adam wants to be an author, so he’d asked if he could be my “apprentice” for a week and I was very happy to agree.  I don’t know how useful it’s been in terms of deciding his future, but I hope I’ve given him a little taste of what I do.   And London is definitely a very inspiring place!

Here are some photos from our outings/fact-finding missions:-

Dragon's eggs?

Dragon’s eggs?

... which turn into small dragons!

… which turn into small dragons!

 

photo(4)photo(5)photoSelfie Tower

Not very Botticelli!

Not very Botticelli!