Archive for April, 2009

At the weekend, I took my children to visit the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall.

It’s a great museum, if you get the chance to visit – do.

They have a temporary exhibition on until July about the Titanic. I did enjoy the film Titantic (with Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio) and they had a few props from the film on display too as well as lots of information on the ship and it’s owners.

When you go into the museum, you are giving a Titanic boarding pass, and on it is listed one of the passengers or crew. When you get to the exhibition, you can then find out more about your passenger – find out why they were travelling, and see if they survived. Well, there was I thinking I’d get a nobody – a third class passenger who drowned.

Oh no. Not me. I got the crew member who was steering the ship when it hit the iceberg!! (And yes, he survived!!!).

Anyway, here are some pictures:


Blue dress worn by Kate Winslet and costume by Leonardo Di Caprio.



 Another dress worn by Kate Winslet.  Her costumes looked quite plain in real life – but they were still gorgeous.


This is a model of the Titanic wreck found on the sea bed. You can clearly see where the iceberg hit.

Also interesting to see that the owners of the Titantic never said the ship was unsinkable. They said it was “practically unsinkable.” Glad we have that straight ;o)



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Last week, I spent a wonderful day visiting Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire 🙂

George Vernon, builder of Sudbury Hall, by J.M. Wright

George Vernon, builder of Sudbury Hall, by J.M. Wright

Sudbury was given to the Treasury in 1967 in part-payment of duties on the death of the 9th Lord Vernon.  It was subsequently transferred to the National Trust and several of the principal rooms were redecorated under the supervision of the eminent interior designer John Fowler.  Sudbury was mainly the creation of George Vernon, grandfather of the first Baron Vernon.

By all accounts, George was a man of wealth, energy and ambition.  When he inherited the estate in 1660, he soon demolished the existing manor house and began work on Sudbury Hall.  To give you an idea of the scale of his ambition, between 1661-2, George brought 1,200,000 bricks for his new project! For the rest of his life, he was either constructing or decorating his new house, laying out the garden and improving the nearby village of Sudbury.  Despite fathering fifteen children (!) the Vernon line almost ended with George’s death in 1702 as only one son – Henry – survived him.  Henry was not born until 1686, when George had already buried two wives and was in his fifties.  Henry’s mother, George’s third wife Catherine, was almost thirty years younger than her husband.

Sudbury Hall - the north front

Sudbury Hall - the north front (NTPL Andrew Butler)

This is the north front of Sudbury.  In architectural terms, Sudbury is unusual, combining Jacobean features with more progressive designs.  The E-shape plan with a rich central frontispiece was an old-fashioned idea in 1660s and the interior plan, too, is old-fashioned in many respects.  The central cupola was a more modern design feature.  As you can see if you click on the image to enlarge, the cupola is crowned by a golden ball, designed to reflect the suns’s rays and act as a beacon for travellers.  The Long Gallery (more on this below) is perhaps the most anachronistic and unusual feature of a house of this period.  It may have been added to rival the Long Gallery at Haddon, a former seat of the Vernon family.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the light levels inside the house.  It was grey and overcast when I visited, and of course, the light in the rooms is often limited to protect the fragile contents.  However, this gave an idea of how difficult it must have been to light these great houses in the days before gas or electricity.  The bill for candles must have been astronomical – apparently 250 candles are needed to equal the output of a single electric lightbulb!  LOL a lady would have needed to get up close and personal in the dimly lit corners of the ballroom to make sure she was kissing the right rake!

There was also the smell to consider.  No, not the rake (I’m sure he smelt of shaving soap and fresh linen ;0) !) but the candles. Tallow candles were made from rendered animal fat and the associated smell was very unpleasant. Even in the greatest houses, when the family did not have company to impress, tallow candles were used in preference to the more expensive beeswax and only when and where light was needed. There is an interesting exhibition in the basement/kitchen area which looks at how technology has been used at the Hall from the Regency period, through to Edwardian inventions to the present day environmentally-friendly heating system.

Sudbury Hall - the great staircase (National Trust Photo Library Andreas von Einsiedel)

Sudbury Hall - the great staircase (National Trust Photo Library Andreas von Einsiedel)

Sudbury Hall - the long gallery (National Trust Photo Library Andreas von Einsiedel)

Sudbury Hall - the long gallery (National Trust Photo Library Andreas von Einsiedel)

As photographs are not allowed inside most NT properties, I bought some postcards –  shown are the great staircase and the long gallery, both of which featured in the 1995 BBC production of Pride And Prejudice.

Sudbury Hall - the south front

Sudbury Hall - the south front

Sudbury Hall - path to the lake

Sudbury Hall - path to the lake

Church of All Saints

Church of All Saints, Sudbury

Situated a few hundred yards from the house, the Church of All Saints contains the Vernon family chapel housing several monuments to Vernon family members.

Sudbury also houses the Museum of Childhood, which had a re-vamp in Spring 2008.  It’s well worth a visit and contrasts and compares a variety of childhood experiences from the 19th Century to the present day.  They have a sample 19th Century chimney for children to ‘climb’ – great for giving them an idea of the terrible conditions climbing boys and girls were subjected to.

There was a poignant quote near the chimney.  It was from a witness at the inquest into the death of a 6 year old chimney sweep in 1816 – ‘They said the boy was their apprentice and they had the right to do what they pleased with him.’


Next stop, Kedleston Hall!….

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire NTPL Matthew Antrobus

Kedleston is one of my favourite Palladian houses and helped to inspire the fictional house Rookery End, which is at the centre of my Regency short story collection  Midsummer Eve at Rookery End.

There’s an exhibition of costumes and images from the 2008 film The Duchess at Kedleston until 1st November 2009 –  I’m planning to visit that, and if I can, the Georgian Gentleman and Regency Rogues weekend in August.  Sounds like fun!

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www.escapewithabook.com have released their first free ebook.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is now available to dowload from their website.

To get you in the mood for the up-coming TV adaptation later this year, why not have a read or re-read so you can say things like:

 “That wasn’t in the book!”


 “They changed that scene a bit…” as you watch.

(Picture on the left shows the Bronte Waterfall)

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This news story caught my eye:


Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester has received a grant so it can be restored. I’m really pleased. Gaskell is one of my favourite authors, and though I haven’t been to the house yet, I do want to visit some time.

It’s also nice to see money being well spent on UK literary heritage. My favourite Gaskell book is probably North and South (though Mary Barton is a close second). Her short story “Cousin Phyliss” also blew me away when I read it. Definitly worth a read!


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You know that story about Cinderella? Well, I feel like it’s happening to me! Not the Prince Charming part (I’ve met and married mine) but the bit about ‘you shall go to the ball’.

In this case it’s the 2009 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance ball – or rather award ceremony – on 10th June in London. This prestigious award was started after Melissa’s tragic death from cancer 3 years ago. There are 6 books on the shortlist – and my debut novel The Importance of Being Emma is one of them!

You can check out the short list, the judges and the award background (well worth a read) on http://www.melissanathan.com/Award/Index.asp. Previous winners are Marian Keyes and Lisa Jewell.

Now where’s that glass slipper?

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Keira Knightley and ... a zombie?! Courtesy of The Sunday Times

Keira Knightley and ... a zombie?! Courtesy of The Sunday Times

It seems to be Jane Austen week. Hot on the heels of Elizabeth Hanbury’s post yesterday, I felt I had to draw attention to an article in The Sunday Times intriguingly called ‘Pride and Prejudice as zombie pulp fiction’!

You can read the article here.

But that’s not all. At the end of the article, there’s a round-up of the ‘Jane Austen industry’ by Louis Wise and it mentions me and my book! 

Louis Wise says: ‘Emma, meanwhile, has been updated to The Importance of Being Emma: in Juliet Archer’s novel, our heroine works in marketing, Harriet Smith is her PA and Knightley is in organics.’

I promise you, in my version of Emma there’s not a zombie in sight – although Jane Fairfax’s skin’s so pale she might pass for a vampire!

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A new book – Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love by Andrew Norman claims that Jane Austen’s insight into love and romance came not only from her relationship with Tom Lefoy, but from her unfulfilled romance with  a clergyman called Samuel Bicknall.

Jane first met Samuel in 1798 when she was 23 and he was a 28 year old cleric making a living as a tutor and a librarian at Cambridge University.  Samuel’s family had been successful in the church and he hoped to acquire a living in Devon worth £800 a year.   The romance looked promising but according to Andrew Norman’s book, it could have been eventually thwarted by Jane’s sister, Cassandra.   Some time after the couple supposedly met again while the Austen sisters were on holiday in Devon,  Jane and Samuel’s budding romance was cut short when the Austen’s allegedly received a letter claiming Samuel Bicknell was dead. One theory is that a jealous Cassandra forged the letter to sabotage the love affair because Cassandra (who had recently lost her clergyman fiance) liked Bicknell herself.    Whatever the truth concerning the origins of the letter, its contents were incorrect.  Samuel Bicknell wasn’t dead – he lived a long life and married a Miss Lewis shortly after taking up the living in Devon.  Jane only discovered the truth in 1813 when she read in a newspaper about his marriage to Miss Lewis.

It’s certainly an interesting theory about Cassandra interfering in Jane’s love life…

Read the full article at the Daily Mail on line here. Details of Andrew Norman’s book can be found if you scroll down to the bottom of the page.


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