Riches and Death

Berrington in Spring

I’m lucky to have many fascinating National Trust houses within easy distance and one of my favourites is Berrington Hall in Herefordshire.

Berrington is a pretty 18th century house, with Capability Brown designed grounds, set amongst beautiful rolling hills and commanding impressive views. I visit frequently and always find something new.

My most recent trip was for research for my next book, partly set in World War 1. In one of the oval bedrooms, the Trust has created an ‘experience room’, designed to reflect the ambience of an evening in the war years, where you can sit, read archive materials, or simply soak up the atmosphere. It was very moving.

The Rodney family, having lived at Berrington for 95 years, sold the house to a Frederick Cawley MP, a wealthy Lancashire cotton finisher. He happened to own the patent for a pure black dye. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, sales of black crepe rocketed and made Cawley an incredibly rich man. Thirteen years later, the wholesale slaughter in World War 1 again created huge demand for mourning clothes but this was to prove a tragically ironic success for the Cawley family.

Frederick Cawley, wife and four sons moved into Berrington and immediately set about a programme of refurbishment and improvement. The Victorian fireplaces were replaced with more appropriate Georgian ones and the house had electricity supplied by a generator. Progress indeed – some parts of Herefordshire still lacked electricity as late as the 1950s!

Success seemed assured when Frederick Cawley was made a baronet in 1906.
However, with the outbreak of war, tragedy struck the family. Only a few months into the war, the third son Stephen died in action at Nery during the retreat from Mons. He was 34 and by all accounts a brilliant young officer. The family, still reeling from the shock, had barely begun to recover when the following year the second son Harold died at Gallipoli. But the horror continued, with the death of the youngest son Oswald in 1918, just three months before the Armistice.

You can hardly bear to think how a mother ever recovers from losing three of her children, even when given in service of the country. And indeed, members of the family recall that Lady Cawley was never really the same after this triple blow.

While sat in the fug and gloom of the ‘experience room,’ it was interesting to read the accounts from fellow officers of how the men died. They speak of a ‘wonderful strength of mind’, of ‘marvellous nerve’, of a ‘glorious and gallant death’ when the truth must have been far less romantic. Perhaps some comfort though, to a mother grieving for three sons she pushed out into the world and which rewarded her with death on a monumentally mechanised and industrial scale.

We have moved….

The For Romance Readers team have moved to a new website:


Georgia Hill’s debut novel Pursued by Love is out on December 1st.

Read an interview with her about her book and her favourite Darcy, over on www.escapewithabook.com

Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey ended it’s four part run on BBC 1 on Sunday, so with m’lud’s permission, I’d like to offer my verdict and say I loved it.

Garrow’s Law has been a delight to brighten these dark November nights and many others feel the same, judging by the buzz on the web and elsewhere. Please, BBC, commission a second series! It’s been a long time since I have been as enthralled by TV programme as I was by Garrow’s Law.

Well done to everyone involved in bringing it to the screen – great script, fabulous performances, high production values, engrossing storylines = quality entertainment. Perfect.

For those who were watching X-Factor or I’m a Celebrity over on ITV and missed this slice of TV heaven, here’s a quick resume. Garrow’s Law is set in Georgian London in the 18th century. Co-created and written by Tony Marchant, one of our best TV scriptwriters, it is inspired by the life of the brilliant, pioneering barrister William Garrow (played by Andrew Buchan, about whom more anon) and his struggle to reform the legal system. Each one hour episode follows Garrow and his associate Southouse (played by Alun Armstrong) in their fight for justice. The cases featured are all drawn from actual trial transcripts available at the OldBaileyOnline.

William Garrow was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1760. He was articled at the age of 15 to an attorney, John Southouse of Milk Street, Cheapside and admitted as a student to Lincoln’s Inn in 1778. During his legal studies, he spent hours observing what passed for fair trials and when called to the Bar in 1783, he set about redressing the balance – trials then were firmly skewed in favour of the prosecution. Prosecutions were taken out privately and reward-driven. The accused were put in the dock and often had no-one to defend them. All they could to do was speak for themselves and be found guilty or not guilty depending on how they answered the questions. Even if a prisoner had defence counsel, the barrister wasn’t allowed to see the indictment against his client or visit him in prison. Nor, amazingly, was defence counsel allowed to address the jury or make an opening or closing address. A mob-like atmosphere pervaded the court. Justice was indeed rough and stakes were high. Once found guilty, the prisoner could be sent to the gallows for even minor offences.

Garrow was considered common and ignorant by his rivals because of his unorthodox entry into the law (he had not been to Oxford). He also had the insecurity of his lower middle class background to contend with. He was, however, a gifted and driven maverick and enjoyed immediate success when called to the Bar, his exploits in court soon catching the attention of the press. Over the following decade, Garrow, acting for the defence in the vast majority of cases, championed the underdog and raised the rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses to an art form that paved the way for the modern adversarial system as practised in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, including the US. He pioneered the right to be presumed innocent until convicted by a jury beyond reasonable doubt.

Garrow later became King’s Counsel, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Judge and an MP, but the series concentrates on his early, trailblazing years at the Old Bailey.

By all accounts, Garrow’s private life was as extraordinary as his professional life and we get tantalising glimpses of the burgeoning romance between William and Sarah Hill (played by the captivating Lyndsey Marshal), the wife of prominent MP Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves). There is also the father-son relationship between Southouse and Garrow, beautifully observed by the always excellent Alun Armstrong and Andrew Buchan.

Ah yes, Andrew Buchan – he gives a wonderful performance as Garrow, a seething mass of aggression, arrogance, quick temper, insecurities, incredible intellect and insight, righteous indignation, eloquence, pride and passion. I’ve seen Andy in other roles, including Party Animals, Cranford and more recently as hitman John Mercer in ITV’s great drama The Fixer.

It speaks volumes for his talent that he can tackle two such diverse roles and make them entirely his own. And any bloke who can deliver smouldering looks while wearing a wig, hair extensions and heels deserves massive kudos *g* It’s not giving any spoilers to say that the glass of water moment in episode 4 of Garrow’s Law is my TV highlight of 2009 ;0)

It’s astonishing to think that few people have ever heard of William Garrow, including those in the legal profession. This series should redress that. I hope it wins plenty of awards – it certainly deserves to. For his achievements, Garrow deserves his place in history, his place in the nation’s consciousness and perhaps a place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square. Despite the historical setting and occasionally arcane language, Garrow’s Law feels curiously pertinent to today. It serves as a reminder that the rights and legal system we enjoy now had to be fought for and should never be taken for granted.

Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey, stars Andrew Buchan as William Garrow, Alun Armstrong as John Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves as Sir Arthur Hill, Aidan McArdle as John Silvester and Michael Culkin as Judge Buller.

So what are you waiting for? 😀 For those in the UK, it’s still available on iPlayer for short time. Catch it while you can. The DVD is available 4th January 2010 and can be preordered now from BBC Shop, Amazon and other outlets. When you’ve done that, contact the BBC via pov@bbc.co.uk and add your voice to the clamour for a second series…

If you want to find out more, here are some useful links:

The official BBC website for Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey

The TwentyTwenty Television website page for the series.

Mark Pallis’s wordpress blog (legal and historical consultant to the series).

Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice by John Hosstettler and Richard Braby (a descendant of Garrow) with a foreword by Geoffrey Robertson QC – published by Waterside Press on 30th November 2009.

BBC Promo for Garrow’s Law on YouTube…

No news yet on Edmund Butt’s fabulous soundtrack being issued but fingers crossed the BBC realize they are onto a winner with Garrow’s Law and make it available alongside the DVD.

Wonderful stuff!

(all photos copyright BBC and ITV)

A Victorian Christmas

Nobody does Christmas quite like the Victorians. I’ll be watching this program: “A Victorian Christmas” on the BBC on December 11th at 9pm on BBC2.

Brought to us by the same people who did Victorian Farm, the presenters will take us step by step through many of the Victorian Christmas traditions.

I’m looking forward to it already!

In the meantime, check out this BBC webpage: here where there are 25 different Victorian Christmas activities. Bliss!

escapewithabook.com are proud to announce our next title is due for release on 1st December: Pursued by Love by Georgia Hill.

We are really excited about this book, not only because it’s our first contemporary romance, but because it’s simply a fantastic book!

Here is the synopsis:

When a modern day Darcy and Elizabeth are stranded in a snowbound inn, they’re forced to re-evaluate their first impressions of each other …

From the moment Perdita Wyndham meets Nick Wainwright she thinks he’s the most arrogant man she’s ever met. It’s appropriate then, that he’s playing Darcy in his company’s production of Pride and Prejudice! But acting opposite, in the role of Elizabeth, Perdita can’t deny that Nick is also the most intriguing man she’s met in a long time.

And then, forced to share a room on the way to a film location, she encounters a more sensitive, sexier, Nick …

As Perdita’s feelings for Nick grow, can she shake off the hold that her ex-lover, the Svengali-like Henry, has over her? And, more importantly, can Nick ever overcome his mistrust of love?

Reading an interview with the delightful and very down to earth sounding India Grey (winner of the RNA’s Romance prize, 2009) in the November issue of Writing Magazine, something struck a chord.

Ms. Grey (Mistress: Hired for the Billionaire’s Pleasure and Spanish Aristocrat, Forced Bride, both for Mills and Boon) was asked that old chestnut, where does she get ideas for characters from? She replied that she begins by borrowing the physical characteristics of actors or sportsmen.

It caught my eye, as it’s similar to what I do.

Browsing through a John Lewis gift catalogue recently, my pulse didn’t quicken at the sight of the Radley handbags or the Delonghi coffee makers but at the vision of the male model wearing Christmas cashmere.

‘That’s him!’ I cried to the dog, snoring at my feet. ‘That’s the gorgeous accountant for my updated version of Calamity Jane.’ (Don’t ask, it’s in the planning stage!) And indeed there he was, the quietly sexy but scarily intelligent and borderline anal Daniel. Dark blonde hair and black horn-rimmed specs, with coat hanger cheekbones, he matched the image I have in my head of my new hero. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person but I find I need some pictorial stimulus in front of me before I can get a feel for the character.

So, Mr. Christmas Cashmere has joined the bevy of men adorning my notice board – purely for research purposes, you understand!

Nick Wainwright in my first novel Pursued by Love (out soon with http://www.escapewithabook.com) began with a (sadly one sided) love affair with the beautiful actor Richard Armitage, when he played John Thornton in North and South. And I know I’m not alone in finding inspiration in him!


John Thornton

However, although I had a clear idea of what Nick looked like, something about his character didn’t gel and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. It wasn’t until I became enamoured with a certain Welsh Blue Peter presenter and changed Nick’s eyes from blue to darkest brown that he worked. Sounds daft I know but it seemed to make him more intense, more soulful.


Gethin Jones

I’m straying from my fascination with dark haired men lately with an all consuming and rather embarrassing crush on the (very) young actor who plays Prince Arthur in the BBC series Merlin.


Bradley James as Prince Arthur

There’s something about his sharp features and blonde hair which is very appealing. He also has the sexiest mouth and teeth (I kid you not, check them out). Just like I get hooked into people by a small detail (like eye colour or a well-defined nose), my characters begin that way – and then develop from there. Perhaps Dan the accountant could have a younger brother?!

Which leads me onto a moan. Don’t you just hate it when a front cover features a photograph of the main characters, especially when, as you read the novel, it becomes apparent that the cover doesn’t match the picture you’ve formed in your head? Or, even worse, the photo has the wrong hair or eye colour!

In the meantime, my study is a fine place to be on a cold winter day, decorated as it is with John Thornton, Prince Arthur and the nameless male from the John Lewis catalogue! And you never know, he may even have persuaded me to buy a sweater …

V for Venetia

I needed a catchy title for this blog post and a homage to V for Vendetta (great film!) fitted the bill perfectly. Or maybe I should have coined, in true V fashion, ‘Voila! Voluptuous voice to vocalise Venetia!’

Enough of the alliteration for the moment, let’s get down to the news – the fabulous news -that Richard Armitage, he with the voice like liquid chocolate, is to read Georgette Heyer’s Venetia for Naxos audiobooks. Richard’s reading of Sylvester for Naxos was a huge success and now he’s to tackle Rake Damerel et al. *Happy sigh* I confess that when those of us on the C19 Georgette Heyer group were discussing which Heyer novel we would like Richard to read next, Venetia came top of the list. It seems Naxos thought the same :0) I love Venetia. It’s Heyer’s ‘grown up romance’ and even though there’s not an explicit sex scene in sight, the passion fairly sizzles on the page. A pity this audiobook will be abridged but perhaps that’s one reason Richard has managed to fit the reading into his busy filming schedule.

I’ve been a fan of Richard’s since 2004 when he appeared as John Thornton in the BBC production of North and South. Since then his career has gone from strength to strength. He’s appeared in the Vicar of Dibley, Robin Hood and Spooks, among other things. Richard’s voice talents are as astonishing as his on screen acting abilities, though, and now he’s winning new fans for his delightful reading of Georgette Heyer.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer and read by Richard Armitage is available April 2010 and can be pre ordered on Amazon UK, Amazon.com and The Book Depository. If you follow the links on RichardArmitageOnLine you will also be making a contribution to one of Richard’s chosen charities.

I predict the verdict from the vox populi vis-a-vis this velvet voiced version of Venetia will be that it is a veritable gem …

Autumn heralds the new season of TV and radio productions and there are two I’m currently enjoying: A History of Private Life on BBC Radio and Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey on BBC TV.

Professor Amanda Vickery (the historian and award-winning author amanda-vickeryof The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England) writes and presents A History of Private Life on BBC Radio 4. It’s an ambitious project, composed of 30 quarter-hour programmes spread over six weeks, which explore the home and everything it has stood for over the past 400 years. Last week’s programmes were all related to the 18th century and some are still available via the BBC’s Listen Again feature.

Amanda Vickery draws on first hand accounts, from diaries, letters, wills, autobiographies, inventories, trial transcripts etc. to piece together a window on people’s day to day lives. It’s a format that brings history brilliantly to life and makes for great listening. The readers are wonderful and Prof. Vickery is a lively and engaging presenter. My only criticism would be some of the music choices, but, all in all, the programme is a delight. Please BBC, make it available on CD!

The episode ‘Taste’ which aired on 27th October tells the story of an 18th century couple who spend life doing up their magnificent houses. Listen in to the touching tale of the Earl of Shelburne and his wife Sophia while it’s still available.

Amanda Vickery’s book Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, published 15th October 2009 by Yale University Press.

Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey aired last night on BBC 1 in the prime time 9 pm slot and fabulous stuff it was too. Andrew Buchan plays William Garrow, the pioneering 18th century barrister who was a passionate believer in social and legal justice.

As a defence counsel, Garrow’s desire is to change the law and revolutionise the proceedings of a criminal trial forever: to give defendants the representation in court that they had never previously had, at cost not only to their innocence but also their lives. Garrow pretty much invented the art of cross examination and yet many people, including those in the legal profession, have never heard of him.

You can read more about the series here and if you are in the UK, view the first episode on BBC iplayer here.

Halloween Fright!

It was Halloween yesterday, and the old romantic that I am thought about this scene in BBC’s “Our Mutual Friend” adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel.

Enough to give any girl a fright – a crazed man proposing marriage in a graveyard. Oh, and his name is Mr Headstone…