We’re all going a little bit Regency …

Book Review: A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle by Emily Royal.

Last year I made a vow to widen my reading experience. I wanted to try new genres and new authors, and as such I was introduced to the wide and varied delights of Terry Pratchett (I know – how could I never have read any Pratchett?) Robert Harris and Barbara Cartland.

This year I’m moving forward with my reading education, and I’m taking a leap … no, perhaps a genteel spring … into the world of Regency romance. Which is huge, varied and not just Jane Austen. With the amazing popularity of Bridgerton on Netflix, isn’t everybody going a little bit Regency this year?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

I chose a novella by Emily Royal “A libertine’s Christmas miracle” which is part of O Night Divine, a collection of novellas published by Dragonblade publishing. I’ll be honest that I chose it because Emily is a friend, and I therefore knew before I started that I was in for a dramatic plot, a dark hero and some scenes of an adult nature. I didn’t expect a cute puppy called Twinkle, but that’s another story …

Unlike Bridgerton, A Libertine’s Christmas Miracle is not set in the world of the “Ton”, but in a Cornish country house, at Christmas, in the snow. It’s a atmospheric setting for a Christmas romance, and I loved the little details that brought home the feeling of the period. The scents, the sounds, the feel of a country house at Christmas are beautifully evoked:

“The quiet, soft sounds of Pengannon – the longcase clock ticking in the hall, the crackling of the fire and the distant footsteps as the servants rushed to and fro, preparing warming pans.”

Image by Couleur from Pixabay 

Although the story is told largely from the point of view of Alice, the spirited mistress of the house, my favourite character was Susan, her somewhat crotchety spinster visitor. Susan doesn’t hold back from saying what she thinks, and declares that she doesn’t need men to fight her battles. I’d love to have known how her story continued!

An atmospheric opening, reminiscent of Wuthering Heights or A Christmas Carol, a satisfying ending and plenty of mulled wine and a roast goose in between. What more could you ask of a Christmas novella?

I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into Regency romance, and it reminds me that I still have Georgette Heyer on my to-be-read list, and several other novellas in the collection yet to investigate!

Fifty.

This week I have my fiftieth birthday, which feels like a significant turning point.

Image by Else Siegel from Pixabay

I’m not entirely sure how it happened; last week there I was, an optimistic adolescent, dreaming of what the future might hold, and now here I am with the productive years of my life behind me. My own children are adolescents and I hand over the future to them. I’m starting to look backwards at my life; what I have done, and what I haven’t done.

Let’s face it, I think I’ve left it too late to join the Royal Ballet, my first dream as a child, and it’s not looking good for acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company either! I did spend many happy years messing about with amateur dramatics, but I think it’s time to admit that I need to take a step back from that too – I’m too old for the parts I once wanted to play, and sitting in the wings filling out paperwork and trying to keep on top of child protection procedures was too stressful.

Image by Christos Giakkas from Pixabay

I went to University because I loved English Literature, and I took my studies as far as I could before I had to face the fact that I couldn’t take it any further because I didn’t want to move into the teaching side of academia, so I sidestepped into the world of libraries. I loved my work with rare books, I don’t think I was ever happier in a job than cataloguing early printed books in an academic library, but I’ve been out of that work for nearly twenty years, and my qualifications and experience are out of date now.

I did actually achieve my third childhood dream – I am an author – but my dislike of selling myself online means that I’m unlikely to become a proper author; one who makes money from her books. These days it feels like you have to work at becoming a celebrity first and THEN write books, and to the “list of things that I’m not going to be” I can confidently add “a celebrity”! I just want to write, and I’m not going to give that up in the near future, but as for self-promotion … well, I never know what to promote!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

So, what next? Fifty feels like an end, but it also feels like a new beginning. There’s a blank page in front of me, and for the first time in a long, long while, I don’t know what I’m going to write on it. Perhaps its time to start dreaming about what the future might hold just like I did when I was an adolescent!

Picturing women

I’ve just been trying to find a picture of a strong lady in her sixties for another piece I’m writing. It’s not easy, and it says a lot about how we picture women over the age of, say, thirty. This is what I found.

Search 1: “Woman”

Inevitably, a very general search returns thousands and thousands of picures of women. However, most of them are also tagged “girl” and they all seem to look like this:

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay 

This one had the tags “woman pretty girl hair” which says it all, doesn’t it? Most “women” are well under the age of thirty, it seems.

This wouldn’t do for my lady I got more specific.

Search 2: “Old woman”

I thought I’d try and remove the “girls” from my search. So I tried “Old Woman” next. Pixabay tells me that old women are either figures of fun:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Or else they’re ancient and tragic:

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

And they’re inevitably in their eighties at the least. My woman had to be none of these. I’ll be honest, there were the odd pictures of ordinary women who hadn’t quite reached the age of eighty amongst the “old woman” category, but they tended to be smiling and happy which isn’t the picture I needed. Sensible, stern and smart, that’s what I was after. A figure of authority.

Search 3: “Middle-aged woman”

I should have known better! For my next search, I tried “middle aged”. It’s obviously not an American term, because this is what I overwhelmingly found:

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay 

Yes, it’s a woman from the “Middle Ages.” Allegedly.

Search 4: “Older woman”

Okay, so she’s not “old” and she’s not from the Middle Ages. What term might an American use to describe a woman who isn’t in her twenties, but isn’t in her eighties either? How about “older woman”? Well, there was one page of results. Two of them were women who were older than thirty but younger than eighty. I rather liked this image:

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

She’s serious-looking, and between the ages of thirty and eighty, but sadly she’s way too glamorous! But at least I found one image that wasn’t entirely unacceptable to me as a representation of an older woman. There was also one smiling woman with a dog who might have been in a similar age group, but the dog was wrong for the image I needed.

Search 5: “Mother and son”

However, the woman-and-dog image gave me another idea. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree … Perhaps rather than a single image of a woman, I should be trying to picture my character in her role as a mother and picture her with her adult son. Well, I think you know how that search ended.

Image by Victoria Al-Taie from Pixabay

Search 6: “Grey woman”

Now I tried thinking laterally. I started by searching for adjectives that described my character. “Stern” provided many pictures of ships, “Forbidding” of roadsigns. I tried something less specific – grey. I describe her clothes, her hair and her house as grey at various points, so what about “grey woman”? That might provide something that provided the right kind of mood and atmosphere, even if the woman is too young. Perhaps if I could find a “grey woman” with her back to the camera, or in silhouette, that might do?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Well, it’s a great image, but it doesn’t sum up my character. It did nicely sum up how I felt about the search by this point.

Search 7: Doors

So, this is where I gave up. I realised that I wasn’t going to find a suitable picture easily and I didnt have time to spend hours on a blog post that I should have finished last week. Instead, I focussed on the idea that she is answering the door when I describe her. I looked for doors, and found this:

Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

Apparently it’s the best you can hope for if you’re a female aged between thirty and eighty.

Coronavirus

I hadn’t anticipated a global pandemic. Who did?

Well, actually, I keep reminding myself that at the end of last summer, in a moment of idleness, probably lazing in a deckchair with a glass of Pimms or something like that, I said to my husband, “It’s been such a beautiful summer. This must have been what that last hot summer before the First World War felt like.” However, I didn’t add “I hope that we’re not heading for a major catastrophe like a global pandemic virus”, shortly afterwards, so I didn’t actually predict it – you can’t blame me for Coronavirus. Not this time, anyway.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

This week has been busy, and when I haven’t been “doomsurfing” (it’s a great term, but a horrible thing to find yourself doing, and I’ve been doing it far too much) I’ve been running around trying to work out what to do if X happens or when Y occurs. So I haven’t got anything interesting and uplifting to share, only a growing sense of dread. In particular, the dread of two teenage children cooped up at home for weeks and having to make them do schoolwork!

But on a positive note, our local councillor is collecting books to distribute to the self-isolating. I’ve included one of mine. It also features the end of a long, hot summer, and a subsequent disaster, followed closely by a happy ending. I wonder where it will end up?

Knowing my luck, probably back with me when I have to start self-isolating myself!

Make do and mend …

This post was inspired by Katey Lovell’s novel “Make do and mend a broken heart” which you can find here.

My heart isn’t broken but I am, like the heroine of Katey’s novel, redecorating. Leanne has the whole house to renovate, thankfully my husband and I have only got two rooms to tackle. We’re moving the books and my desk downstairs into the front room so that the bedroom which currently serves as my (very cluttered) study can become a proper spare bedroom again.

My study before renovations begin. A mess, as usual.

I began to consider what I could do to make my renovations more sustainable (and less expensive) and I’m starting with the bay window. It’s always been a bit cold and draughty, so I thought maybe new thermal curtains would help. Then I looked again at the old ones. Other than being a bit faded in the centre, there’s nothing wrong with them – they were expensive and I love the pattern. So I took them down, cut off the most faded parts and turned them round so that the faded parts were no longer in the middle but at the edges and therefore not so visible. I also lengthened them so that they reach right to the bottom of the window (OK, my initial measurements ten years ago were a bit off …) and cover the frame completely at the top. I did this using my nearly-one-hundred year old Singer sewing machine, which I love. I’ll admit, I ordered some new thermal linings for them, but that’s still cheaper and less wasteful than buying entirely new curtains. Or a new sewing machine!

I love my sewing machine. It’s beautiful and it smells good too.

Then I cleaned them. I decided against sending them to the dry cleaners and simply hung them over the washing line for a bit and beat them with the old fashioned carpet beater to remove the dust. I don’t know whether it helped, but I enjoyed the whole beating process!

I also love my carpet beater. Like the sewing machine, it’s quite beautiful in its own right.

So that’s part one complete. Curtains are better than ever, and I even found some of the left over fabric with which I can cover the noticeboard when I move that downstairs. Result!

I just hope that the renovation of my two rooms is as successful and as thrifty as Leanne’s. (I don’t think that’s too much of a spoiler!)