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I’ve just been to Lyme Regis – the weather was wonderful last week – no stormy seas as in the picture shown. I love this print which shows the old assembly rooms at Lyme Regis. Sadly, they were knocked down some years ago to make way for a car park, but we do have a description of them that was written by Constance Hill in her book, Jane Austen, Her Homes and Her Friends.

Her writing inspired my own for a chapter in Searching for Captain Wentworth. My heroine Sophie has travelled back in time to be with her ancestors, the Elliot family who live next door to Jane Austen in Bath. Sophie and her family are in Bath when the unexpected arrival of Jane’s brother, Lieutenant Charles Austen, leaves Sophie feeling both excited and nervous. She knows she is falling in love with him and yet knows that it must be a hopeless case … 

I dressed with great care, choosing a fine, Indian muslin, embroidered with flowers and French knots along the hem and down the sleeves. A string of coral beads at my throat gleamed in the dying light and two bright spots on my cheeks gave the impression that I was permanently blushing, the work of the sun and sea breezes combined, which had turned my skin to a pale bronze. I felt nervous at the thought of seeing Charles again and for a moment wished I could stay at home and hide away. Seeing him in Lyme had been a shock, I’d felt a certain consciousness between us when we’d met or I’d wanted to believe that I had at the time.
Charles Austen

Now, I was not so sure and scolded myself for imagining that Charles had come to Lyme especially to see me. I needed to separate what I wanted to believe from the truth and the facts were that Charles had come to find suitable lodgings for his parents in the surrounding area. That was all, I was determined that I would suppress any other thoughts including those shadowy memories of some other matter that tried to find their way to the surface. He wasn’t going to stay in Lyme and even if he did stay for one night, he was soon to leave so that he could organize his family’s accommodation. They weren’t even going to be in the area, choosing to go to Dawlish instead. His interest in me stemmed from our friendship in Bath and I told myself not to think that there was anything else. If I was not careful, I could so easily betray my feelings, not only to those around me, but to Charles himself.

However much I longed to tell Charles about the place he was securing in my heart, I could not reveal my feelings. I knew that now. It wouldn’t be fair to him, I decided. He’d made it perfectly clear that he was not about to fall in love with anyone, nor did it fit in with his plans. His career and advancement in his chosen profession were paramount. Besides, a little voice somewhere in my head said it was never meant to be. I could not, and should not attempt to change fate.

The Assembly Rooms set on the edge of the sea gave the impression of being afloat, as if on a great galleon sailing out on the water, for nothing but sea and sky could be seen through the windows. The walls rippled with light and reflections in tones of lapis lazuli, which as the evening progressed bobbed and dipped like the ocean itself, bathing the interior with a rosy glow from the sun setting on the horizon and from the warmth of the candles glimmering in sconces and glass chandeliers alike. What could be more thrilling than dancing with the sea all around us?
The Rooms were very full and even though I searched the place looking for a glimpse of Lieutenant Austen, I knew he was not there yet. I seemed to possess a sixth sense when Charles was around; the air seemed to vibrate differently when he was in the room. I would have to be patient and pull myself together for fear of betraying my emotions to everyone. Conscious that word had got around about our arrival in Lyme, it was evident that our party was the object of much interest as knowing expressions and cognizant looks were exchanged amongst the local gentry and it wasn’t long before those acquainted with our host made their presence known. We were introduced to the Barnwells, the Crawfords and the Suttons, all deemed as families of quality by Mr Elliot and Mr Glanville. After their stiff formality, it was lovely to see Miss Rockingham appear with her bright smile and easy chatter. She was with her brother who was immediately introduced and proved to be as welcoming as his sister.
BBC Persuasion 1995
‘I believe we have a mutual acquaintance, Miss Elliot,’ Doctor Rockingham remarked. ‘It is such a pleasure to meet you at last and to know that our friend Miss Austen is well. We were hoping to see her this summer. Have you received any word that she is to come to Lyme again?’
‘Her brother is here, Doctor Rockingham, and is hoping to secure accommodation for his family in Dawlish, I understand. I know Jane is keen to come to Lyme once more; her memories of the place are all happy ones.’
‘My sister and I will be more than delighted to see her, Miss Elliot, but whether or not we shall have that pleasure, I hope you will honour us with a visit again soon.’
I assured them that I would. It was impossible not to warm to the doctor and his sister who were friendly and kind, quite unlike any of the other people I had met so far in Lyme. When Doctor Rockingham smiled, his eyes lit up his handsome face. If only he had someone to make him happy, I thought, he’d be a changed man.
Before we had been there a quarter of an hour, I had invitations to dance from two or three young men who were introduced. I was relieved that our host would be forced to open the ball with Emma as a consequence, but disappointed that Lieutenant Austen was not there to ask me to dance. Just as I was beginning to give up hope of him ever making an appearance and as the little orchestra were tuning up their violins, the door opened. Charles Austen entered the room, along with two other people who looked very familiar.
The Cobb at Lyme Regis
‘That’s the gentleman and lady we saw that time on the Cobb,’ exclaimed Marianne, as everyone stopped to stare at the people who had just walked in. ‘I can quite easily see why you were taken aback. There is such a similarity between them, that I confess, Sophia; I am not at all surprised you were in shock. He could be none other than Lieutenant Austen’s brother, do you see?’
I could see very easily. Different in looks and manner, yet, there was no doubt that they came from the same family. Both had the same wavy, chestnut hair that framed their handsome faces in dark curls and the same hazel eyes, though perhaps in Mr Austen’s brother they reminded me more of Jane in their clarity. There was a look about him that reminded me very much of his sister. He had the same sensitive appearance; the same intelligent look.

His lady smiled, as her eyes darted at anyone who glanced her way. She was an elfin beauty. Delicate, yet exotic in style, like a jewelled bird stolen from a foreign land, she was swathed in a silken gown that flattered her tiny figure complimenting her pale complexion. As I stared, quite entranced with the pleasure of looking at her, I knew I was being watched. I only had to move my head very slightly to see Charles and to be aware of his beautiful, dark eyes. He bowed, his expression giving away little emotion. I felt the intensity of his gaze. So much so, that the spell was broken only by my own reticence to return the expression that I knew I had not misread.

‘Who are those people? ’I heard Mr Sutton ask Mr Barnwell who were standing a little apart from us.
‘Irish, I daresay, by their manners, ’answered Mr Barnwell, ‘just fit to be quality in Lyme.’
Mr Glanville butted in. ‘On the contrary, they’re nobody worth knowing. I recognize the taller gentleman from Bath, but I believe he is a sailor, no one of any rank worth our consideration.’
‘But the other gentleman,’ added Mr Sutton, ‘and more particularly his lady have quite an air about them.’
‘Now, she is somebody worth our attention,’ declared Mr Crawford, turning at their words and joining in, ‘for not only is she very easy on the eye, gentlemen, but Mrs Crawford’s been telling me she is a French countess! Or, at least she was before her first husband had his head chopped off. Her new husband is a banker, I believe. They are passing through, staying at the Three Cups Inn, I understand, before heading back to their London home.’
Lyme Regis
I hated the way they talked about Charles, his brother and his wife. I wanted to tell them to stop being so rude. I would have liked to tell them everything about these truly worthy brothers who had not been handed money and riches on a plate, and of how they had more daring, wit, and intelligence than the lot of them put together, but, of course, I couldn’t. I wasn’t even sure if Charles and I would have a chance to speak on our own. I didn’t know anyone that would make it possible for us to meet and talk, let alone dance with one another. We would have to be introduced all over again and I couldn’t see any of the gentlemen in my party making that a possibility.

I hope you enjoyed the extract!

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I’ve got a bit of a thing about Elizabethan stone-built manor houses, especially those with mullioned windows and so when I decided to invent my own for inclusion in Searching for Captain Wentworth – Monkford Hall in Somerset – you can imagine that I had a lot of fun doing the research.

The photo above shows Owlpen Manor – a stunningly beautiful house in the Cotswolds which is the epitome of the type of house I love. You can visit virtually here, read all about its history and even stay in cottages on the estate.

I wanted to include a knot garden or parterre in my novel where I could place a sundial that held a special motto for my heroine, Sophia, to find. They were usually laid out in formal designs with aromatic herbs and plants like marigolds, pansies, rosemary, thyme, lemon balm etc. A later addition enclosed the planting with low box hedges.

My heroine Sophie goes back in time to visit the house her ancestors lived in before they travel on to Lyme. It’s called Monkford Hall – some of you might realise the connection between Monkford and Jane Austen’s book, Persuasion, as the village where Captain Wentworth’s brother had his curacy. Sophie has returned as her ancestor Sophia in the year 1802 and in this scene is with her sister Marianne. From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

We entered a small courtyard styled in the old Tudor fashion of parterres with squares of columbines dotted in between low box hedging, their lavender heads nodding in the breeze. I was drawn to the Elizabethan sundial on a plinth in the middle. Carved in a stone spiral with many embellishments around the circular face was the motto: Time is but a shadow; Too slow, too swift, But for those who love, Time does not exist.
I shivered. My mother would have said someone had just walked on my grave and the doves up in the church beyond the house flew from the bell tower, their wings flapping against the still air. The words on the sundial resonated with me, but I couldn’t think where I had read them before. They seemed so fitting. I couldn’t think of a more apt description to the way I was feeling.
Whenever Charles and I were together time did not exist. Time made up its own rules and like shadows we were at its mercy, floating between the layers like sunlight passing through lace to leave its patterns fleetingly marked in shade.
‘What are you thinking about, Sophia? You have a most faraway expression. But I think I know and I’ve guessed why you seem so different since you arrived. You are in love!’
The challenge in her voice brought me up fast. Was that what I was feeling? Was I truly in love with Charles Austen?
‘You’re blushing, so it’s true!’ cried Marianne, pulling me down to sit beside her on a stone seat. ‘Tell me about him, Sophia.
Is he rich like Mr Glanville? What do Papa and Mrs Randall think of him?’
‘I am not in love,’ I began and hesitated, as I didn’t wish to confide in anyone about the complicated feelings I had for Charles. I was doing my best to deny them knowing that his love could never be mine.
‘But, I am sure you’ve met someone,’ Marianne insisted. ‘I can see that you have and I shall feel most put out if you do not tell me all about him.’
‘I did meet a very interesting family when we were in Bath, a set of the most delightful people. I fell in love with them all … they have such a funny way of saying things that show them to be sincere and openhearted, quite unlike other people who present a smile, but then have no real interest in you at all. The Austens are a creative, artistic family. Cassandra is an accomplished artist and Jane is a talented writer. I also met their parents, a brother James and his family, all literary and interested in books. There is a sailor brother, too.’
‘And I believe that this brother is the very one who has stolen your heart.’
‘Lieutenant Austen is very gentleman-like, but my heart is intact, I do assure you.’
‘But you do like him?’
‘Yes, I like him, as a girl might like a brotherly figure. In any case, he has yet to make his way in the world and has no time to fall in love.’

Sundial in a formal garden

There is something so very beautiful and romantic about the soft greenery of the planting seen against the stone. Gardens like these are the stuff of dreams (and novels)!

This is the kind of bedroom I imagined Sophie would have slept in at Monkford Manor with draped curtains at her bed and a cosy bedcover – perhaps a quilt stitched from pieces of ancient fabric.
From Searching for Captain Wentworth:

White-washed walls and a fire burning in the grate set off a vast four-poster bed, hung with crewel work drapes, along with a huge press and a beautiful cedar chest on a carved stand in the corner. There was also a bookcase, which on closer inspection contained a wonderful selection of “horrid” novels such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey might enjoy, and a dressing table set before the window with a toilet mirror, a set of silver brushes and two glass bottles holding scent.
It was the personal objects that held the most fascination for me. A doll, dressed in worn Indian muslin with jet-black hair pushed under a satin bonnet, sat on the window ledge next to a wooden cup and ball game, along with another object that I knew so well. I ran to the rosewood box and traced my fingers over the familiar scrolls and inlays, the sight of which filled me with a strong sense of nostalgia.
‘What is it, Sophia?’ asked Marianne. ‘Have you secrets in there?’
‘Of course not, I’m just so pleased to see all my things. I really miss my home when we are away and the sight of such a familiar object is a joy to behold!’

‘I do understand, whenever I’m feeling upset at school, I wrap myself up in Mama’s shawl and imagine she’s putting her arms around me like she used to when I was a little girl.’
Her face crumpled as if she might cry and I suddenly felt very sorry for her. ‘Do you remember much about Mama?’
‘Not as much as I’d like. I remember her voice and I recall the feeling that whenever she occupied a room, it always seemed that the sun was shining and the house was full of laughter.’
I remembered my own mother. It felt as if a light had gone out when she was no longer there and I thought how hard it must have been for the young Marianne to have her mama taken away at a tender age. It was no wonder she was always fancying herself ill. She probably just needed a little more love and attention. I would try to be extra patient and spend some time with her.
‘What shall we do in Lyme?’I asked. ‘Do you prefer walking, or collecting shells and fossils?’
‘I do not like walking, it is so fatiguing and I am not interested in collecting anything.’
‘Then, how about some sea-bathing? We will hold hands and go in together!’
‘Cold water is perfectly horrid and sea water so salty, that after our visit to Weymouth last year I declared I should never dip my toes in the water again!’
‘Well then, we’ll just sit on the sands in the sunshine and enjoy doing nothing. I shall read to you if you like.’
‘Oh, Sophia, I would like that. Please can you read to me now, just a little of “The Mysteries of Udolpho” before I have to go to bed? We’d just got to the black veil before you had to go away! You’re the only person after Mama, who can read so well.’
Half an hour later, by which time she seemed in a better humour and tired enough not to protest too loudly about going to bed, I took the candle and escorted Marianne along the dark corridor to her room, tucking her into bed and wishing her goodnight. I made my way back along the creaking floorboards, grateful that I had such a short distance to walk in the dark by the light of one small flame. My chamber felt very homely and quite my own. I can only describe the feeling like a memory, something so deep within my soul that had been awakened by unknown senses. I knew I had been there before, that I had lived and loved in this house. Opening the cedar chest initiated an onslaught of impressions and emotions, most of which were so fleeting that the memories are as hard to write down as a dream on waking. I pulled out the gowns one at a time discovering new muslins, brocade skirts from the past, ribbons and tassels, scented leather gloves, and sheer gauze fichus. Selecting some of the finer muslins for our seaside trip, I threw them over a chair in readiness to take on the journey the next day and turned my attention to the rosewood box.
 
Some other favourite houses include:
Well, the list goes on and on… Do you have a dream house? I’d love to hear about it!

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The White Gate – Sydney Gardens
If you’ve read my latest novel, Searching for Captain Wentworth, you will know that the white gate in Sydney Gardens plays a very important part. At the start of the book, my heroine Sophia is invited to Bath by her aunt who understands that she is in need of mending a broken heart and also has a dream of becoming a writer. Sophia sees her neighbour, the mysterious Josh Strafford, drop a glove outside the house where she is staying (which just happens to be next door to Jane Austen’s Sydney Place address) and when she follows him in an attempt to return it, she finds herself at this gate and with no sight of Josh who seems to have disappeared.

Here’s a little from the book: 

The only way he could possibly have gone seemed to be screened by hedges but, as I approached, I saw a white cast-iron gate hidden in the greenery. I must admit to feeling a little uneasy at this point. The gardens were deathly quiet and felt more than a little eerie. I was totally and utterly alone. All my Mum’s advice about never going into parks by myself came back with a flash. I could easily be murdered and no one would know anything about it. I looked behind me, but there was not a soul around so I pushed the gate open and stepped down onto to the canal path. I didn’t want to go any further, I couldn’t see my neighbour anywhere and there was something very melancholy about the place. Under a beautiful cast-iron bridge, studded with moss jewels upon its stone façade, a ribbon of jade water snaked slowly along to the echoes of dripping water as two seagulls swooped in a race to the end of a long, dark tunnel.
I was getting soaked through; it was time to go home. I turned, walked up the steps and put my hand on the gate. It opened with a rasping scrape and as I placed my foot to step through the entrance back into the gardens, I thought at first I’d been hit so hard that I reeled and clutched at the gate to steady myself. The world went black and then so dazzlingly bright that I was blinded. I instinctively closed my eyes and how I managed to stay upright I couldn’t later figure out, but the greatest shock came when I opened my eyes again. From my place, half hidden behind green bushes, I saw a scene that made no sense.

An original bridge in Sydney Gardens
Whilst I leave what happens next to your imaginations, I will tell you a little about the gate in the gardens. It does indeed lead onto the canal path of the Kennet and Avon canal and it’s possible to take a walk in either direction. Last week, I turned right as I stepped down onto the canal path and you can follow the path along as far as Widcombe and beyond. Here are some photos I took – it was a very chilly day but there are still some lovely views. I hope you like them!
Narrowboats seen from a bridge
Gardens extend down to the water
Georgian architecture sits beautifully in the Bath landscape
A heron takes a dip in the water
Views of Widcombe in the distance
Widcombe – it is here in my novel that Sophia walks with Jane Austen

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What a lovely way to start the New Year – I’ve been honoured! Well, I may not be in the Queen’s list, but Searching for Captain Wentworth is on Meredith Esparza’s honours list.
I love this award which is for Favourite Austen-inspired original novel! Thank you so much Meredith, I can’t tell you what it means to me – I’m absolutely thrilled.

I’m on Austen Authors today with a little poem for the New Year! Inspired by Pride and Prejudice, Lizzy looks forward to a new year – with little idea of her fate. Please join me and all my fellow authors!

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Thank you to everyone who entered last week’s giveaways!

Here are the winners – Congratulations!!!!

Gabriella – A signed copy of Effusions of Fancy
Lauren Gulde – Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen
Nancy Kelley – Illustrated copy of Persuasion
Amy B – A copy of Mrs Hurst Dancing
Issy – A signed copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth

I’m taking a little blogging break for the holidays – I’ll be back in the New Year.
Happy Christmas everyone!

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I have two gifts today to giveaway!
Here’s the first for those lucky enough to own a Kindle:
SEARCHING FOR CAPTAIN WENTWORTH
Free on Kindle – December 16th – Jane Austen’s Birthday!
This offer is only open for one day so to claim your free copy make sure you download it on the 16th


My second gift is a choice of any one of my books!
i.e Choose one copy of either Searching for Captain Wentworth, Mr Darcy’s Secret, Willoughby’s Return, Lydia Bennet’s Story or Effusions of Fancy!

Let me know your preference in the comment box with a contact email. As before, the winners will be announced on Monday 17th December. Thank you for joining me this week with all your lovely comments!

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Advent is here and the countdown to Christmas has begun! I have begun my shopping which is very easy to do when you’re surrounded by all the lovely shops in Bath.

Christmas is coming!

Bath is looking very festive with some new Christmas lights and one of my favourite sights is of this carriage and horses trotting through the streets. I’ve been sitting writing and all of a sudden the clip-clop of horses hooves can be heard outside my window – it’s wonderfully atmospheric and transports you back in time immediately!

Carriage rides around Bath

One of my favourite items at this time of year is an advent calendar and I’m not talking chocolate ones. My favourite kind is the old-fashioned, traditional sort with an alpine scene or nativity and lots of glitter. I love opening the doors and discovering a new picture inside every day. Here’s a link to one of the best and here’s another – I’ve always loved them since I was a child!
If you’re fond of e-cards, Jacquie Lawson have a wonderful selection that you can send and have an advent calendar that you can download on your desktop.

If you’re thinking of Christmas shopping I hope you’ll consider some Jane Austen inspired books for Christmas – Searching for Captain Wentworth is on special offer all through December on Amazon and in paperback format too on all sites including the UK and US!

Here’s a lovely snippet from Persuasion which describes a wonderful family Christmas scene.

 Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit; and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on her knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

   Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa’s illness must have so greatly shaken. But Mrs. Musgrove, who got Anne near her on purpose to thank her most cordially, again and again, for all her attentions to them, concluded a short recapitulation of what she had suffered herself, by observing, with a happy glance round the room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home.
   Louisa was now recovering apace. Her mother could even think of her being able to join their party at home, before her brothers and sisters went to school again. The Harvilles had promised to come with her and stay at Uppercross whenever she returned. Captain Wentworth was gone for the present, to see his brother in Shropshire.
   “I hope I shall remember, in future,” said Lady Russell, as soon as they were reseated in the carriage, “not to call at Uppercross in the Christmas holidays.”

Happy Advent!

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