Here in merry old England, it's July, it's the height of summer and, unusually, we're melting in 30 degrees of heat - so of course that means it's time to talk about Christmas! :D (Well, I like to be different *g*)
Actually this blog post isn't to tell you that there are only 149 days, 4 hours, 2 minutes and 41 seconds left until Christmas ;0) but that my latest release Christmas at Rakehell Manor is now available.
If you've visited here before, you might have read about my writing process on Christmas at Rakehell Manor. Rakehell - its working title - started out as a novella but very soon developed into a novel. It turned out that hero Hugo and heroine Prue demanded a much more detailed story than I'd planned :D I hope readers will enjoy their romance as much as I enjoyed writing it.
It seemed crazy to wait until nearer to Christmas to share Hugo and Prue with you all so if you're sunbathing on a beach or by a pool, why not enjoy some very early Christmas cheer with Christmas at Rakehell Manor?
I don't want to venture into spoiler territory so I'll say no more except to reveal the beautiful cover (designed by Sheyna Watkins)....*drum roll* Ta Dah!!...
...and the blurb...
A house of sin...shrouded in mystery and steeped in ever more scandalous gossip, where debauchery and wild parties are rumoured to take place.
A notorious rake...whose wicked reputation sends neighbours swooning over their tea cups. Can he really be as bad as he seems?
A lonely paid companion...whose prim and practical exterior hides a lush sensuality waiting to be awakened.
Prudence Eylesbarrow is resigned to dreary spinsterhood and to never finding love. All she wants is one Christmas where she’s not at someone’s beck and call. But when Prue finds herself snow-bound at the infamous Rakehell Manor, her curiosity with Hugo, Marquess of Warwick – mysterious, handsome, world-weary, cynical – tempts her to reveal passions she never knew she possessed. Even so Prue is under no illusions. It was fool’s game to think a penniless nobody could tame the master of Rakehell, for that way lay heartache and social ruin. Or has the time come for the power of passion, the promise of love and the magic of Christmas to unite two people from very different worlds?
Check back here or my website and/or sign up to receive my newsletter, visit my Facebook author page or follow me on Twitter (@liz_hanbury) and look out for the chance to win a cute little prize inspired by Regency fashion:)
Oh and the paperback edition of Christmas at Rakehell Manor will be coming soon :)
Not much time for a blog post today, so I thought I'd post some lovely piccies from one of my walks ....
This is my favourite horse chestnut tree, currently in full blossom and showing off in the sunshine!
It's in Capability Brown-designed landscaped grounds and is over 100 years old, so who knows perhaps even planted on the orders of the great designer himself :0)
And any idea what this below is ... somewhere to cool your pinkies when it's hot? Something to do with fish farming? Nope ... these are old watercress beds, built in the 1800s as part of the landscaped gardens to give a regular supply of watercress to the estate kitchens. Watercress was highly prized for upper class dinner tables, especially in the early part of the 19th century before commercial production. The beds are designed to allow a steady flow of fresh, clear, shallow water over a wide area, providing the ideal conditions for growing watercress. The water supply comes from an underground spring. This meant the water temperature remained stable throughout most of the year, allowing watercress to be grown earlier and later in the year than normal.
Today is Shrove Tuesday in the UK. The last day before the start of Lent, Shrove Tuesday was named after the 'shriving' - confession and absolution - which was carried out on the day, and it was also an excuse for general feasting and merrymaking before the restricted diet, penance and self-denial of Lent.
The most famous custom for Shrove Tuesday is pancakes and the fun of flipping or tossing pancakes is mentioned as far back as in Panquils Palinodia of 1619:
It was the day whereon both rich and poor Are chiefly feasted with the self same dish, Where every paunch, till it can hold no more, Is fritter filled, as well as heart can wish; and every man and maid do take their turn, and toss their pancakes up for fear they burn; And all the kitchen doth with laughter sound, To see the pancakes fall upon the ground.
Here's the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge trying out their pancake-flipping skills :D
It was considered bad luck not to serve up pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Before the Reformation, a midday bell called the faithful to be 'shriven' on Shrove Tuesday and the practice continued in many places with the bell often being referred to as the 'Pancake' bell and a signal for the pan to be put on the fire and schoolchildren and apprentices to stop work for the day.
There doesn't seem to be any symbolic reason connecting pancakes with the day before Lent so the practical reason that pancakes used up remaining milk, eggs and fat before the Lent fast makes sense!
There are still many Pancake races held in the UK today, notably at Olney in Buckinghamshire where for the last 568 years the women of the village have continued an annual tradition which, local folklore has it, started in 1445 when a woman panicked when she heard church
bells ringing from her kitchen and, fearing she would be late for a
Shriving service, she ran through the
town arriving at the Church door in her apron and carrying her
The 'pancake greaze' at Westminster School in London combines pancakes with some of the rougher sports that are customary on Shrove Tuesday. The greaze, meaning scrum or crowd, has been held in the school hall on Shrove Tuesdays since 1753. The head cook ceremoniously tosses a horsehair-reinforced pancake over a high bar, which was used in the 16th century to curtain off the Lower School. Members of the school fight for the pancake for one minute, watched over by the Dean of Westminster Abbey (as Chairman of the Governors), the Head Master, the rest of the school and distinguished or even occasionally Royal visitors. The pupil who gets the biggest piece is awarded a gold sovereign.
Several other events take place by tradition on Shrove Tuesday. In the Alnwick Football Game, known as Scoring the Hales, the ball is brought from Alwick Castle in a procession headed by the Duke of Northumberland's piper and thrown up at 2pm. The teams are now much smaller than the 150 a side that used to be common and to win, a team has to score three goals, or hales, through wooden goals that are 4'6" wide and decorated with greenery.
In Ashbourne, Derbyshire, the game takes place mainly in the town. The teams can be of any size and are traditionally comprised of those born north of the River Henmore (Up-ards) and those born to the south (Down'ards). It starts at 2pm and ends at 5pm and if a goal is scored, whoever scores it gets to keep the ball and a new ball is turned up. The two goals are three miles apart (!) at Shurston Mill and Clifton Mill.
The 'football' game at Atherstone in Warwickshire also preserves many of the features of medieval Shrovetide games. Reputedly played in an unbroken tradition dating back 800 years, it takes places in the town streets and there are no teams and no goals and virtually no rules!! The purpose of the game is to get hold of the ball and to still be holding it when the game finishes. The ball is much bigger than an ordinary football at 27" diameter and weighing four pounds. It's made of leather and filled with water to stop it being kicked too far. All the shopkeepers wisely board up their windows and doors before the game starts in Long Street, commencing at 2pm, finishing around 5pm.
Some weeks ago, I did a blog post as part of the My Writing Process blog tour and listed some of the sound track I'd been listening to while writing Christmas at Rakehell Manor.
As you can see it's an eclectic mix :D Many writers need silence to work and I do too, sometimes, but I find music a good way of getting my creative muse going.
These days we're fortunate enough to have music of every sort available at the push of a button, the click of a mouse or better still, live at a concert or gig. Public concerts have been around for a while of course but it might surprise you to know that the first ever public concert took place in 1672. I'd love to know if there was dancing in the aisles!
John Banister * see below for image credit
It happened one late December evening at a house in Whitefriars, London. For the first time in London, and it is believed in the world, a public concert was given at which people paid at the door. The Restoration of Charles II to the throne had seen a rise in enthusiasm for opera and a composer and violinist John Banister, a
protege of the King, began a series of organised concerts.
Banister charged the princely sum of one shilling for entry to a large room where the audience sat at tables, arranged as they would have been in an alehouse. The musicians on the small stage, led by Banister, accepted requests for particular music and 'very good musick' was said to have been played during the next few years. Public concerts and recitals rapidly gained further popularity with the opening of the new pleasure gardens in London.
When the pioneering Banister died in 1679, an unlikely figure emerged to carry on his work. Thomas Britton
was a coalman in Clerkenwell - by day he walked the streets selling coal, by night he indulged his passion for music over a rented stable off St. John's Square. For the next 36 years the concerts he staged there every Thursday night had a great influence on the spread of popular music.
Thomas Britton (Wikimedia Commons)
Britton was self taught and also built most of the musical instruments he and his fellow musicians used. Initially he didn't charge for his concerts, asking only one penny for a cup of coffee. Later he asked for a subscription of just ten shillings a year and by then some of London most famous musicians, including Handel, were climbing the stairs to perform at Britton's loft.
And, since I couldn't possibly end this blog post without some music *g*, here's my latest listen, a fabulous ear worm that makes me smile from the new album 'Man on the Rocks' by Mike Oldfield. This track is called 'Sailing' and features great vocals by Luke Spiller from The Struts :)
* Image of John Banister copyright National Portrait Gallery, used under Creative Commons Licence.