Tuesday, 19 February 2019

A Late Summer Night's Dream

We’re super excited to announce that our newest novella, A Late Summer Night’s Dream, is now available worldwide! Read on for more details and an excerpt.

BUY IT NOW

Among Oxford’s dreaming spires, can a widowed professor and a wide-eyed scholar make their own dreams of love come true?

Simeon Shakespeare is living his academic dream. As an Oxford scholar, he spends his days in libraries and whiles away his nights at the theater. A mix-up over a seat number leads to a very awkward first act, but that’s nothing compared to what happens when the lights go up.

Professor Anthony Meadows is finished with love. Shattered by the death of his husband, he divides his time between his book-lined study and Oxford’s theaters. The last thing he needs is an annoying research student bickering with him over who should sit where.

When Anthony and Simeon discover they have more in common than a shared love of the Bard, it looks as though the stage is set for romance. Yet with the memory of Anthony’s lost love keeping the professor from moving on, can Simeon’s love mend his broken heart?

Excerpt

Simeon pulled the ticket out of his pocket as he ran up the steps of the theater. Thanks to the bloody traffic in town, he was almost late for curtain up. He checked his seat number again and hurried through a door from the foyer into the busy auditorium. The house lights went down almost as soon as he found his row.

“Excuse me…sorry.” His seat would have to be right in the middle of the row, wouldn’t it? Best seat to have, but not if you turn up late.

With only the green glow of the emergency exit lights to guide him, Simeon found his way to the empty seat. He squinted at the ticket and—someone is in my seat!

A tall someone who Simeon could barely see in the dark.

Music began to fill the auditorium, an overture before the play began. Through the strings and brass, Simeon hissed, “You’re in my seat!”

Someone tutted, perhaps the lady who was craning to peer around Simeon at the stage. Why was she so keen anyway? The curtain was still down—she was hardly missing the action.

At Simeon’s words, the man who occupied his seat peered up at him through the gloom and asked in a cut-glass whisper, “I’m sorry?”

Simeon wafted his ticket at him—not that he’d be able to see it in the darkness. “You’re in my seat.” Something in the way the man had spoken made Simeon add, without a hint of sarcasm, “…sir.”

“Sit down,” the lady hissed, patting Simeon’s arm with her rolled program. The interloper in his seat reached out one hand and tapped his finger on the empty seat beside him. His seat, the seat he should be in, not Simeon’s central seat.

“Sit down,” the man echoed in that same plummy whisper, dismissive and disinterested. “I’m in my seat.”

Simeon sighed in annoyance. “You’re not—you’re in mine! I chose it on purpose, and you’re sat in it!”

“What number seat are you looking for?” He asked it as though Simeon was the most unimportant creature in the universe, with the same throwaway condescension of his worst undergraduate professors. His hand remained on the empty seat and he said, “This is seventeen.”

“Yes—seventeen! That’s my seat. Look—look at my ticket, for heaven’s sake!” Simeon held it closer to the man’s face.

His nemesis tapped the empty seat again and he told Simeon, “This is seventeen, I’m in sixteen and—”

“Fifteen,” the woman snapped, patting him a little more forcefully with her program. “Now sit down, you bloody hooligan!”

Simeon popped forward the collar of his denim jacket, a move he had learned long ago from old films. “Hooligan? I merely wish to sit—”

Shit.

Simeon dropped down into the empty seat and looked at his ticket again. His was seventeen, and that was definitely the empty seat.

“Sorry,” he whispered. “How embarrassing—but it’s so dark, I…”

Yet his neighbor didn’t offer him so much as a glance, merely gesturing with one hand, a flick of the wrist that commanded silence. A faint glare of light reflected for a moment from the jeweled cufflink that peeped out from beneath the sleeve of the man’s jacket, then Simeon’s attention was caught by the curtain which, thank God, was finally beginning to rise.

This isn’t going to be an awkward three hours at all, is it?

Not at all.

Simeon was soon carried into the play. The scenery was gorgeous, and he overlooked the unimpressive acting because whoever was playing Theseus—if only Simeon had had time to grab a program—was a thoroughly delicious silver fox. As he settled into seat seventeen, Simeon became aware of a scent from somewhere nearby—a very pleasant cologne. The kind that Theseus would wear, in fact. Manly. Distinguished. The cologne of a mature man, who—

Christ, it isn’t the grumpy sod sat beside me, is it?

Simeon peered at him from the corner of his eye.

It wouldn’t be him. He had the voice and manner of an old-school toff. Lord knows this city has enough of them, and none of them wear cologne like that. Oh, for his own Theseus wearing that cologne.

Simeon forced himself to concentrate on the play, even though the energetic young actors didn’t hold much interest for him. But with any luck, Theseus would turn up again as Oberon, King of the Fairies.

A man can dream.

Before Simeon had time to lament the departure of Theseus too much, the curtain fell and the house lights came up. The interval. He really could do with a drink. Perhaps he should do the decent thing and apologize to the man who hadn’t been in his seat?

“Look, sorry—I don’t suppose you’d like to—?”

He glanced round at the man who’d sat so quietly beside him in the dark and held his breath as he looked at him.

The woman who had weaponized her program shot Simeon a pointed, disapproving look before bustling from the row. It was only then that he realized the couple weren’t together at all. In fact, as the woman departed, the man in seat sixteen was gazing fixedly at his program and clearly trying to pretend that Simeon didn’t exist.

Bloody hell, how could I have been so stupid?

The man in seat sixteen was gorgeous.

A head of thick blond hair, stranded with silver, and a strong jaw. Tall. Nicely dressed—far more nicely than Simeon. The man in seat sixteen seemed to have made an effort for going out to the theater, with a shirt and tie and three-piece suit.

And he was wearing that damn cologne.

Simeon turned in his seat and grinned him. “Mate—look, I’m going to grab a drink. Do you—can I get you something by way of apology? Least I can do.”

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Least Appetizing Meals in the World?

Catherine, thank you for hosting us here at A Covent Garden. I enjoyed writing about menageries when I stopped here in 2017 for Mendacity & Mourning, and on this visit, Justine has delved into the culinary history of the regency period and what appeared on the dining tables of the rich, poor and the in-between classes. Hint: Nothing went to waste!

The Least Appetizing Meals in the World?

Epicurean Delights, from head to tail, in Regency Cookbooks and Menus

In our novella The Most Interesting Man in the World, Bingley is an extremely enthusiastic consumer of all manner of Regency-era dishes, including but not limited to: venison, ragouts, parsnips, sausages, creamed potatoes, apple compote, Gorgonzola, meat pies, and cream cakes. He also occasionally takes a sip or two of brandy, but only when he must. Other than the apples, which he eats because they remind him of Jane, he eats no fruit and no green vegetables. We also see and hear about sweet treats such as tarts, ices, various puddings, whipped syllabub, and ginger biscuits. But how true to life is Bingley and Darcy’s diet as described in the story?

The answer is that some of it is historically accurate, but not all. People of Bingley and Darcy’s social class truly did eat many of these things, usually with a healthy dose of cream mixed in just to make sure they got arteriosclerosis if they lived long enough. 

Ingredients: the same and different, near and far

The English Regency-era diet was more restricted than ours today, not least because it was, for the most part, locally sourced and thus seasonally dependent. There was no produce imported from Spain or North Africa, for example, as there is in the UK today. It was too expensive to transport many foodstuffs except for the smallest, most easily preserved, and most exotic kinds very far, especially given the lack of refrigeration. French cooking was of course of interest to wealthier people, and Italian pasta also made frequent appearances in the form of macaroni and vermicelli. Upper-class kitchens had ingredients from all around the British Empire, including such items as soy (mushroom sauce with galangal and spices) and tea from India, ketchup (a catch-all word for sauces inspired by East or Southeast Asian condiments), and Jamaica pepper. Coffee and chocolate were imported and readily available, as well as other foods from the New World. Greenhouses were not uncommon, and sometimes they were used to grow fruits and vegetables that were not native to England from imported seeds. One famous example is the pineapple, which readers of historical fiction will know was such a rarity that hostesses could rent themto use as centerpieces, passing them along until they rotted and finally got eaten. 

But the Regency diet was more varied than ours in that it included many ingredients that people in the Anglo-American world rarely eat now. During the early 19th century, English people ate every edible part of every animal and plant because to do otherwise would be wasteful, just as people do in less affluent countries and regions of the world now. Why throw away a perfectly good chicken’s foot, or grind it up for cat food, when you could eat it with some sauce and enjoy the chewy ligament and get some needed fat from the skin? Recipe books are full of animal parts most of us no longer eat, such as heads, organs, and umbles (entrails, especially of a deer). Regency-era people ate a lot of sweetbreads, which are the thymus gland and pancreas of a calf or lamb. Cookbooks are also full of animals and plants that today’s city-dwellers have neither heard of nor thought to eat: hares, pheasants, snipe, lamprey eels, etc. They also preserved foods that we rarely do because we instead can, refrigerate, or freeze them. People pickled things like grapes, walnuts, green apples, and pork in substances such as vinegar and liquor; they dried fruit and vegetables and made sausages out of just about everything. 

To market 

Food shopping could be a crap shoot, or maybe something more like Russian roulette, especially for city dwellers who did not grow or raise any of their own food. Regency-era household-management reference books for women often contained long sections about how to choose the best items at market so as to avoid purchasing spoiled food that would make family members sick. For example, The Housekeeper’s Domestic Library; or, New Universal Family Instructor in Family Economy, Containing the Whole Art of Cookery in All Its New and Fashionable Varietiesby Charles Millington, 1805, offers some tips for identifying a nice piece of veal:



In the days before there was inspection of meats and other foods, it was up to consumers to make sure the food they purchased was not rotten, dirty, or spoiled. Making the right choice could be a matter of life and death.

Once the ingredients were purchased, it was time to cook. But, as we might expect in a very hierarchical society, of course not everyone ate the same things.

Who ate what?
As in the present day, what people ate was to a large extent determined by their social class and income. We can get a sense of what particular people ate from looking at cookbooks designed for people of those different classes. The books also provide us a window onto the many things people consumed then that probably seem extraordinarily unappetizing to most of us now. 

Bread for the poor
Poorer families in the city had the least varied and least nutritious diets. They usually ate coarse bread and butter as their staple food, supplemented with broth, vegetables that stored well such as cabbage or potatoes, and sometimes a bit of bacon if they were lucky, but very little other meat. They might have eaten some fresh fruit or vegetables in season, if they could afford them. It was no wonder that so many poor people were malnourished and unhealthy. Families in the country, though, would have had more variety depending on what they grew or raised themselves. Whether in the country or the city, poor people did not have much need for or access to recipe books. Most were illiterate and got their recipes from an oral tradition rather than from books.

More variety for the middle classes
It is with middle class families’ culinary practices that things start to get more interesting. These families enjoyed more variety and higher-quality ingredients, and had the luxury of being more concerned with how food was going to taste, too. 

Rather than relying only on what was at the market, middle-class families even in the city sometimes kept small gardens of their own to provide variety and freshness. Household management texts often included information about how to instruct a gardener in keeping a kitchen garden, matching the seasonal produce from the garden with recipes for dishes appropriate for a particular time of year. 

Ladies’ cookbooks offer us some insight not only into individual recipes, but into how the dishes were to be served together to make a pleasant meal. Consider The Lady’s Assistant for Regulating and Supplying the Table: Being a Complete System of Cookery, by Mrs. Charlotte Mason, a Professed Housekeeper, Who had upwards of Thirty Years Experience in Families of the First Fashion. Mrs. Mason offered ideas for family menus, or “bills of fare,” of between five and eleven dishes.



“Collops” refers to slices of meat, usually bacon, and udder is pretty self-evident. It is hard to tell from this menu which season the meal is appropriate for, because spinach and peas both might have been canned. 

A seven-course meal for the family, once again featuring greens that might have been fresh or preserved, and two kinds of meat, including brisket that was pickled and then boiled for good measure:

And an eleven-course meal:


Notice that there are three sweets in this meal. Jaune Mange is a form of blancmange, a milk pudding thickened with isinglass (a collagen from fish swim bladders) that could be served, like Jell-O, in shaped moulds. Jaune Mange is tinted yellow with the addition of orange juice and eggs.

Hashed calf’s head likely strikes terror into the hearts of today’s readers, but in the spirit of wasting nothing, calf’s head appears frequently in Regency-era cookbooks. Mrs. Mason’s book gives instructions on how to prepare calf’s head boiled, hashed, stewed, roasted, collared, and served in a turtle’s shell in a dish called Mock Turtle. Here is one example of how to cook a nice calf’s head soup:


The head would still have contained the brain, tongue, and eyeballs. Imagine that staring up at you from the dinner table. 

Readers interested in learning more about dishes made from what may strike us as unlikely animal parts might wish to take a look at Mrs. Mason’s recipes for forced (stuffed) cocks-combsand a lovely ragout (finely-chopped meat stewed with vegetables) of pig’s feet and ears

You may have noticed that many of the dishes include more herbs and spices than we might have expected, given English cuisine’s reputation for blandness. Some recipes in these cookbooks even include garlic. More common flavorings, though, as seen in the recipes above, were onions, marjoram, cloves, thyme, pepper (both black and cayenne), celery, parsley, laurel leaves, cinnamon, mace, ginger, mint, tarragon, chervil, and horseradish. It is also common to find recipes calling for lemons, Seville oranges, currants, and shallots, as well as anchovies and oysters for flavoring.

Opulence for the very wealthy
Middle class fare, as we have seen, was all about taste, and not so much about presentation. That changed when it came to food that people in the highest echelons of society ate. The upper classes went to absurd lengths to eat the rarest, the most precious, and the most elaborately prepared foods as a way to display their cosmopolitanism, wealth, and good taste.

The Prince Regent and other very wealthy people might have eaten dishes like the ones described in The Imperial and Royal Cook: Consisting of the Most Sumptuous Made Dishes, Ragouts, Fricassees, Soups, Gravies, &c., Foreign and English: Including the Latest Improvements in Fashionable Life, by Frederic Nutt, Esq., 1809.

Consider how many ingredients, steps, and skills went into producing Nutt’s Chartreuse, which is a mixture of meat and vegetables prepared in a mould, in this case lined with bacon.

Similarly, here is an example of a very complex dish with rare ingredients: a salmon stuffed with an eel, anchovies, eggs, and butter, and served with truffles and morels. Fit for a king, perhaps, but also sounding rather like a turducken or gooducken.


Considering that Darcy was a member of the highest levels of society--perhaps among the top 400 families in all of England based on his income--it seems likely that many of the dishes he would have dined on at Pemberley or in town are similar to those in Nutt’s Imperial and Royal Cook. In contrast, as we have written him in our novella, Bingley has a taste for simpler middle-class fare like that found in Mrs. Mason’s book, a somewhat gauche preference that may expose his family’s roots in trade for all to see. Poor Bingley. No wonder he needs instruction from the most interesting man in the world.


If you are interested in finding more late 18th century and early 19th century cookbooks, check out the website Savoring the Past


~~~

Connect with Justine

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The Most Interesting Man in the World written by JL Ashton and Justine Rivard
What has gotten into Fitzwilliam Darcy lately? 
Charles Bingley, a jolly fellow who relies on his great friend’s impeccable judgment in all things, is determined to find out. What could explain Darcy’s ill humour and distraction? Or his uncharacteristic blunder of speaking Greek to a horse who only understands Latin? Not to mention that shocking book accident! Certainly, it has nothing to do with Elizabeth Bennet, the sister of Bingley’s own angel, Jane. Bingley is certain of it. 
What was really going on behind the scenes at Netherfield, Pemberley, and Darcy House, and just what did those men talk about over billiards and brandy? In this novella, Bingley sheds a little light on keeping company with the most interesting man in the world, and shares his own musings on puppies, his dreadful sisters, and the search for true love. Prepare to be shocked, delighted, and confused by a Charles Bingley the likes of whom you’ve never met before.

Author Bios:
Justine Rivard is a very serious college professor who has no time for frivolity or poppycock of any kind. She strenuously objects to the silliness found in this story and urges you to put the book down at once before it gives you ideas. You are invited instead to join her in the study for a lecture about her extensive collection of whimsical 18th-century animal husbandry manuals.

J.L. Ashton, on the other hand, is a very unserious writer of Jane Austen variations you might have read (A Searing Acquaintanceand Mendacity & Mourning) and collector of recipes she will never attempt. She encourages a general lack of decorum and has a great appreciation for cleft chins, vulnerably brooding men, and Instagram accounts featuring animals. Especially cats. Also foxes. 

The Most Interesting Man in the World Blog Tour ScheduleFebruary 11 /Austenesque Reviews/ Character Interview
February 14/Margie’s Must Reads/ Book Review
February 16/Just Jane 1813/ Meet the Authors  
February 18/Babblings of a Bookworm/ Guest Post
February 22From Pemberley to Milton/ Character Interview
February 24 /Diary of an Eccentric/ Book Review 
February 26 /My Vices and Weaknesses / Book Excerpt
February 28 / More Agreeably Engaged/ Guest Post



Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Buda Castle – A palace fit for a Magyarophile Queen

I'm delighted to welcome old friend Julia Meister to the salon once more, as your guide to Buda Castle!


---oOo---


Buda Castle – A palace fit for a Magyarophile Queen


For any Habsburg devotee, visiting Budapest for the first time is a unique and spellbinding experience: The twin capital of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy is full of sights that must not be missed, cafés which were once frequented by Emperors, queens and princes, as well as one of the most spectacularly located Castle you’ll ever set eyes on. I’m talking, of course, about Buda Castle, situated on the south tip of Budapest’s Castle Hill. It is surrounded by several historical – medieval, Baroque, as well as Modernist – buildings. Paying a visit to Buda Castle also means being transported back in time due to one being surrounded by the 19thCentury atmosphere of the Castle District as a whole.


However, first things first – the view of Buda Castle from afar never fails to take my breath away. Whether you’re strolling along the beautiful blue Danube, or are already sitting on the tiny bus* which is about to take you up the curvy serpentines of Buda Hill: Trust me, it is quite the experience!  As you cross the Chain Bridge with its famous lions, which bear the name of the Emperor himself (I. Ferencz Josef in Hungarian), you feel as if you are being welcomed to a place where the Austro-Hungarian monarchy actually still exists. 


After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 – which, to a degree, liberated the Kingdom of Hungary from Austrian rule (foreign policy was still decided upon together) and re-introduced the historic constitution of the Kingdom of Hungary – , Buda Castle was being rebuilt from 1875 to 1912. With Elisabeth (Erzsébet) and Franz Joseph having been crowned as King and Queen of Hungary on 8 June 1867 in the adjoining Mathias Church, the Hungarians were obviously keen to provide their rulers with a splendid palace! Not much had been done to modernise the inside of the Castle since the 18thCentury. 

Hungary had been rebelling against Austrian rule since 1848 (although, to be fair, they had always been trying to break free from the Habsburgs). Thanks to Empress Elisabeth’s love of Hungary – she was fluent in the language, loved the Hungarian countryside, and had Hungarian ladies-in-waiting –, Franz Joseph had no other chance but to bow to his wife’s will and declare Gyula Andrassy, Elisabeth’s good friend, Prime Minister. Under his rule, Hungary went from strength to strength, and the Hungarians showed their gratitude by worshipping their Queen like a goddess. (A tradition which has continued until the present day!). 


Elisabeth thanked them in return by spending more time in Hungary than in Austria. You can imagine that the Viennese court did not approve of such behavior – oh, how Elisabeth loved to rebel! While in Hungary, Erzsébet mostly favoured the Royal Palace of Gödöllö, where, due to it being located an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Budapest, she enjoyed much more privacy. However, when Elisabeth found out that she was pregnant again with her fourth child (her youngest daughter, Sophie, had died at a young age), I can only imagine that she decided to give birth at Buda Castle as a display of gratitude to her favourite nation on Earth! The child, Marie Valerie, was to be her favourite, and rumor had it that not the Emperor himself, but Erzsébets dear companion had fathered her…Historians do agree that this rumor is completely unfounded. Interestingly, Marie Valerie was called The Hungarian Child, since her conception coincided with the Hungarian coronation. Elisabeth and Franz Joseph had apparently not been sharing a bed up until that event. Erzsébet agreed to resume intimate relations (at least for a short while) as a reward for Franz Joseph’s cooperation. Another interesting fact: Marie Valerie was only allowed to converse in Hungarian for the first few years of her life. This made things a bit complicated when she eventually returned to Vienna, since the German language was not exactly her forte! 


Packed with all this background information, you may ask yourself whether it is possible to not only admire the Castle from afar, but to set foot inside it? But of course: The Budapest History Museum (http://www.btm.hu/eng/) is highly recommended! It features a permanent exhibition called The Royal Palace – The Castle of Culture, which allows the visitor to catch a glimpse of the castle’s beautiful furnishings, decorations and paintings. Since most of the interior of the castle was destroyed during the Second World War, it is lovely to see how much time has been put into the reconstruction of some of the castle’s features. By visiting, one may also have a look at the medieval part of the castle, which features a truly remarkable chapel!

I highly recommend ending the day by paying a visit to the Monument of Prince Eugene of Savoy. It is situated on the Danube Terrace, from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s Pest side. Keep your camera ready, as this is a photo opportunity par excellence! Still looking for a further Habsburg fix? If so, a café called Ruszwurm(Szentháromság u. 7) is a must for you. Delicious cakes, coffee specialities and lots of Habsburg memorabilia to look at while you enjoy the cosy 19thCentury atmosphere of the place  – what better way to end the day?

*Bus no. 16 departs at Déak Ferenc ter or Széll Kálmán tér every 5-6 minutes; for further information, please have a look here: https://bkk.hu/apps/menetrend/pdf/0160/20180303/1.pdf

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Today the salon doors close for a Christmas break as my rakish colonial gent and I devote ourselves to festivities. 

I hope you have a wonderfully merry Christmas, however you choose to spend it. I shall see you for more glorious Georgian tales in 2019!


Christmas Eve by William Allan
Christmas Eve by William Allan



Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Captain's Cornish Christmas


I'm so thrilled to our brand new short story, The Captain's Cornish Christmas, is out today! Will a lonely lifeboat captain and the king of Cornish Noir find love by Boxing Day? A bit of sauce, a lot of snow and a matchmaking cat... perfect for a winter night!  

mybook.to/cornishcaptain

For a lonely Cornish lifeboatman and an author who’s more used to crime scenes than love scenes, this Christmas is going to be very merry indeed!
When Jago Treherne agrees to man the Polneath lifeboats one snowy Christmas, he knows he can forget turkey and all the trimmings.
Yet when he boards a seemingly empty yacht and stumbles upon sexy Sam Coryton enjoying an energetic afternoon below decks, Jago soon realizes that he might be unwrapping a very different sort of Christmas gift this year!

Friday, 23 November 2018

The Scandal of George III's Court



It's no secret that I love a good scandal, so I'm thrilled to announce that my new non-fiction book, The Scandal of George III's Court, is available now. Even better, you can snap it up with £4 off by visiting Pen and Sword at the link below.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Scandal-of-George-IIIs-Court-Hardback/p/15548

From Windsor to Weymouth, the shadow of scandal was never too far from the walls of the House of Hanover. Did a fearsome duke really commit murder or a royal mistress sell commissions to the highest bidders, and what was the truth behind George III's supposed secret marriage to a pretty Quaker?

With everything from illegitimate children to illegal marriages, dead valets and equerries sneaking about the palace by candlelight, these eyebrow-raising tales from the reign of George III prove that the highest of births is no guarantee of good behaviour. Prepare to meet some shocking ladies, some shameless gentlemen and some politicians who really should know better.

So tighten your stays, hoist up your breeches and prepare for a gallop through some of the most shocking royal scandals from the court of George III's court. You'll never look at a king in the same way again...

Buy it now from the publisher
Buy it now from Amazon

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms


It's an absolute delight to welcome Claire Cock-Starkey to the salon today to chat about her wonderful new book, The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms.

Claire's books are always a delight and this no different! A pocket-sized treasure trove of wonders, this little gem is bursting with unusual tales and thrilling facts. some of these are well known, some less-so, but all of them are hugely entertaining and you'll find your eyebrow raised a few times too.

This book really is wonderful, it should be peeping out of a fair few Christmas stockings this year!

You can follow Claire on Twitter!

Without further ado, let's avail ourselves of a cardigan for autumn!