The Historical Writers Association Gold Crown Award

A month or so ago, I was honoured with an invitation to be one of the judges for the Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown Award, 2021. Part of me thought: Elizabeth! Haven’t you got enough to do already? But another part of me argued – It will be good for you. You’ve been so absorbed in getting your Elizabeth Hawksley back list up in e-books which has been a huge learning curve and frequently driven you bonkers, that you’ve actually done very little else.

Cover for Christopher’ Wilson’s ‘Hurdy Gurdy’

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Writing Tips: Problems with the Back Story

Almost all novels have a back story. The author will probably have been mulling the plot over for some time: days, weeks, months, even years, and part of the mulling process is to decide ‘Where to start?’  OK, there are some writers who plunge straight in, having little more than a dramatic picture in their mind and content to let the story go where it wants to, but most of us need to know rather more about the story – even it it ends up somewhere different!

Elizabeth lecturing at Caerleon on a topic of writerly interest

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My e-book launch of ‘The Girl who Liked Giraffes ‘

Today, I’m celebrating the e-book launch on 1st February of The Girl Who Liked Giraffes which was originally published under the title A Desperate Remedy. I thought of naming this blog A Tale of Two Titles. I had wanted to call it The Girl Who Liked Giraffes; I ran it past my Creative Writing students at the College of Further Education where I taught; they loved the title. I then ran it past my G.C.S.E English Language and my ‘A’ level English students – and they, too, liked it. But my publisher, Robert Hale, didn’t. Mr Hale want Heiress at Risk. I found myself thinking crossly that Heiress at Risk was a one size fits all sort of title – it could apply to a number of my books – Frost Fair, say. Eventually, I pinched Thomas Hardy’s title Desperate Remedies, and offered Mr Hale A Desperate Remedy (fortunately there’s no copyright on titles) and he accepted it.

Cover for my e-book The Girl Who Liked Giraffes. The four giraffes arrived in London in 1836

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The Brontës and Wycoller Dene

Back in 2012, I visited the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time. It was all wonderful but the garden which really touched me was The Brontë Garden, created by Tracy Foster for the tourist agency, Welcome to Yorkshire. Not only did it win a gold medal, it also, deservedly, won the People’s Choice for the best Small Garden.

So I thought that a touch of countryside beauty – with a literary association – might be cheering.

Bridges over Wycoller Beck Continue reading The Brontës and Wycoller Dene

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Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel The Secret Garden was described by the writer Marghanita Laski as ‘the most satisfying children’s book I know.’ I first read it when I was about 8 and I continued to read it throughout my childhood – and I still read it from time to time – always with pleasure. Interestingly, back in 1911, the book did not make much impression on the public (it wasn’t even mentioned in the author’s obituary in The Times in 1924) but gradually, over the years, it has acquired a host of devoted readers – including myself. It is now viewed as her masterpiece.

Frontispiece: Mary discovers the doorknob to the Secret Garden

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Jane Austen: Lydia Bennet’s role

I’ve been thinking about Lydia’s role in Pride and Prejudice and I’ve come to the conclusion that she is far more important to the plot than it might seem at first sight. Lydia is entirely self-centred. She’s never sorry for anyone else, or ever considers anybody else’s point of view. She is concerned only with herself.

Basket of Fruit

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The Strand Magazine: Educating the Blind

2020 is the 25th anniversary of the passing of the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, an act set up to create a level playing field to enable all, no matter what their disability, to live a full life with the same opportunities as everyone else. The fight has been a long one, and it’s not over yet.

Dr Francis Campbell top left, the Royal Normal College for the Blind on the right Continue reading The Strand Magazine: Educating the Blind

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The Story of Samson and Delilah

Last week, when writing my blog on Girls’ First Names, I discovered that Delilah was no. 76 in the top 100 girls’ names for 2019 – which surprised me. Did the parents of all those baby Delilahs know that the original Delilah was a high class courtesan who managed to wangle the secret of Samson’s superhuman strength out of him and then betray him to his enemies, for which she was paid a huge amount of money?

From Cecil B de Mille’s Samson and Delilah, 1949. Hedy Lamarr as Delilah, Victor Mature as Samson.

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The Strand Magazine: child acrobats and stage dancers

The Strand Magazine (1891-1950) was one of the most popular magazines of the late Victorian Age; it came out monthly and I have my Great-Grandfather’s copy of the first hardback edition of The Strand Magazine, Jan-June, 1891. It contained short stories, some translated from foreign languages; e.g. Russian (A. Pushkin); and French (Victor Hugo), together with articles of general interest. It was fully illustrated and targeted a middle-brow, middle-class readership; with something for everyone. The list of authors who wrote for The Strand Magazine was impressive and included Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, and P. G Wodehouse. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were serialized in The Strand Magazine, where Sidney Paget’s illustrations defined what Holmes looked like so perfectly that it’s now impossible to visualize him any other way. The magazine was phenomenally successful and, until the Second World War, it regularly sold 500,000 copies a month.

Strand Magazine bound copy January-June 1891

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Dame Trot and her Comical Cats

About ten years ago, I bought a tattered old copy of a 19th century children’s book, 13 by 17 cms, called Dame Trot and her Comical Cats published in 1850 by Dean & Co of Threadneedle Street, London. It was a best seller and I thought it might be interesting to look into its history. Its story is a complicated – and convoluted – one.

The front cover picture shows an artist cat painting the portrait of the famous Dame Trot which stands on the easel

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