Why Historical Novelists need Dorothy Hartley’s Books

So, who was Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985) and why do historical novelists need her books? Miss Hartley was a highly intelligent, talented, empathetic and thoughtful country woman; she was also a writer, an historian, an artist and a teacher concerned with keeping alive the knowledge of the old ways of running a household, cooking, growing food, preserving it and much, much more. She was a well-respected expert in her subject and an unusually readable one – as thousands of readers have discovered. Her books were praised by professors as well as by critics: a Sunday Times review called Food in England as ‘Food scholarship at its best’ … even though there were no academic footnotes.

Food in England by Dorothy Hartley

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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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Jane Austen/ Georgette Heyer: Formality and Informality

I’ve just read a fascinating book: John Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen? In it, he asks 20 questions – and then deconstructs them absolutely brilliantly. One of them is: What do the characters call each other? And further, how does Jane Austen herself refer to them? Here is an example to show you what I mean.

What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan

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The Natural World: Meeting New Flowers

In 2008, I decided that I would take my holidays in countries that were once part of the Roman Empire: I’d been fascinated by the Roman Empire ever since I read Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels which were set during that period. As a child, I’d written two novels set during Roman times: A Circle of Stones based on Caesar’s Gallic Wars which I studied for Latin ‘O’ Level, and In Days of Old set in Rome itself.

Sicily: scarlet pimpernel and toadflax.

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A Visit to Cyprus

Cyprus sits in the north east corner of the Mediterranean and almost every country in that neck of the woods has at one time or other invaded it. And today I’m re-visiting it; it is a country with much to offer.

I love the fact that, in Cyprus, scarlet pimpernels are royal blue

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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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Georgette Heyer: Why Does Freddy Standen Talk Flash?

I’ve been re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion and thinking about Freddy. Many readers, I’m sure, agree with Georgette Heyer’s own comment that ‘My dear Freddy is a poppet’ . But, of course,  he needs to become a hero, too. We follow his journey from an inarticulate young man of fashion to a man who is capable of sorting out a number of sticky social problems and who will show himself to be the perfect husband for Kitty.

Original cover for ‘Cotillion’

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Souvenir Mugs and Jugs from the Napoleonic Wars

To set the scene: 206 years ago today, on 28th February, 1815, the ex-emperor of the French, Napoleon Bonaparte, having escaped from exile on the Island of Elba, landed in France and immediately set about reclaiming his throne. His luck was to hold for 100 days. By the beginning of June he had raised 200,000 men, more than enough to match the combined armies of the Britain and her Allies. On 18th June, 1815 he would face his enemies at Waterloo.

‘British Voluntary Infantry raised 1797’, earthenware plaque, Bristol Water Lane Pottery c. 1801.

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A Visit to the Battersea Dogs’ Home, 1891

The Strand Magazine of June 1891 took its readers to The Home for Lost Dogs which had been started some 30 years before in Miss Mary Tealby’s scullery in Holloway.  Miss Tealby’s charity soon outgrew its humble beginnings and, by 1891, the Battersea Dogs’ Home was established and popular enough for Mr George Newnes, The Strand’s editor, to send one of his reporters to write about it, and the artist Mabel D. Hardy accompanied him as illustrator.

‘To the Home for Lost Dogs’ by Mabel Hardy (1868-1937)

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The Magical Mount Stewart Gardens

Today is Valentine’s Day and I want to celebrate it by taking you to what has been voted one of the world’s top ten gardens: Mount Stewart Gardens in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. It was created by Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry from 1921 on as a place to ‘be lived in and enjoyed’.

A garden needs a lot of upkeep as represented here by the full wheelbarrow. Lady Londonderry loved splashes of colour – the more brilliant the better.

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