Tuesday, April 24, 2018

An extract from Project Darcy - Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy

An extract from Project Darcy

When Ellie goes back in time she becomes Jane Austen and experiences all the excitement and emotions of the writer's budding relationship with Tom Lefroy. 

Ellie shivered. She suddenly felt terribly cold. The stone walls of the church seemed to prevent any of the sun’s warmth from penetrating and her thin cardigan felt completely inadequate. Looking up to the window set high above her head, she noticed that grey clouds were passing overhead, the sky a sheet of dark steel. The interior was plunged into darkness for a moment and she knew time was shifting again. She tried calling out to Jess, but her friend seemed oblivious, trapped in another dimension. Reality was blurring, everything around her shimmered and quivered so that she glimpsed images from both the present and the past. Ellie felt she was slipping once more into another world and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. She was drifting outside towards the churchyard, and the real world seemed a million miles away. The leaves on the trees above were turning, she noticed, from summer greens to autumn yellows, and heaps of them lay in drifts of amber and lemon, cinnamon and tangerine. Long skirts replaced her jeans, which slowed her progress over the snow-covered grass. An icy feather flicked her nose as it fell to the ground, and was swiftly followed by another. As if a great goose were being plucked in the skies above, the feathers grew thicker and faster, as big as two pound pieces. Ellie felt grateful for the warm layers she wore as the snow whirled from the heavens, and pulling up the scarlet hood on her long cape, she tucked her hands inside to keep them warm. And then she was aware of a voice calling to her. It was difficult to hear at first, and she couldn’t tell from which direction it came so she had to close her eyes to focus all her attention. When she opened them again, she was standing in a real-life snowglobe, and the voice was more insistent. She turned her head to see Anne Lefroy’s Irish hunter, but it wasn’t Madame who was exercising him that morning. Tom sat astride the beautiful horse, reins in hand and then he called her name again.

‘Miss Austen, how do you do?’
I wanted him to say my name again. If he said it a thousand times it would not be enough. No one ever before had spoken it so softly. I dropped a mock curtsey, but I did not smile. I could not forgive him for not receiving me when I’d called at Ashe, and I was far too proud to allow him to see the effect his voice had on me.
‘How do you do, Mr Lefroy?’ I answered looking up to meet his eyes which stared steadily back at mine. ‘And where are you going on this cold morning?’
‘I’m visiting a local family, as it happens – a clergyman, his wife and his children. There is a daughter who lives in the parsonage – I believe she considers herself to be quite the dancer. Do you happen to know of such a young lady in the district?’ His grey eyes were twinkling with merriment and I knew he was teasing me.
I felt my mouth twitching, but I was determined not to laugh. ‘I think I might happen to know the family,’ I said, ‘though I have heard reports that the daughter of whom you speak is not merely a boastful creature. Her dancing prowess is talked of as far as Basingstoke, sir.’
Tom threw back his head and laughed. ‘’Tis a fearful distance you speak of, my lady – as far as Basingstoke, you say? This lady must, indeed, be a celebrated performer!’
He dismounted, leaping down with a jump to the ground, the white tails of his coat flapping with a snap. I’d forgotten how tall he was and his coat gave him a greater stature. Broad shoulders narrowed to a fitted waist and great skirts of voluminous fabric fell to the snowy earth. He smoothed down the wide lapels and adjusted his coat. Watching him tweak the tilt of his hat, I thought him a perfect coxcomb; even if his hair reminded me of spring cowslips, and it crossed my mind that he must be one of the most handsome young men I ever saw. Yet, his white coat symbolised everything I’d thought of him on first meeting: that he had rather too high an opinion of himself, and that he was a mere dandy, even if my first impressions were changing … just a little. I liked his teasing ways, and I knew that on occasion he’d shown that he didn’t take himself too seriously.
‘I’m sorry I was unable to speak to you yesterday,’ said Tom. ‘My aunt and uncle were out on parish business.’
He didn’t offer another excuse or say why he hadn’t invited me in to the rectory himself, and I wondered why he’d felt unable to speak to me. It was rather strange behaviour. I felt I’d established that although he might be a little shy with strangers, I was sure he’d overcome that with me. Talking to people I didn’t know well was an irksome activity, but I tried to make the effort where I could. With Tom, I’d glimpsed such a warm personality at the Basingstoke ball, but here in this snowbound lane, I was unsure of anything and I felt I could no longer see into the soul that had seemed so akin to mine.
‘Do you miss your home, Mr Lefroy?’ I asked, wondering if he was homesick. After all, he was living in a different country whose customs and ways were surely different.
‘No,’ he said, but he had such a faraway expression at that moment as if perhaps it was not his home that he was thinking about, but a person – someone dear to him. And then he smiled. ‘I have a great friend, Tom Paul, who would love it here – he’d think the scenery to his taste, I’m sure.’
He was studying my face all the time. His eyes travelled from the top of my bonnet to the curls on my forehead and followed the line of my cheek. I watched him take a step towards me and saw him stare at my mouth. I held my breath as his face came nearer, his eyes holding mine, before he put up his hand to hook an unruly curl around his finger. He tucked the offending hair under my bonnet. I felt my face flood with heat, but I didn’t flinch, nor could I move away.
‘You remind me of someone,’ he said.
I couldn’t speak, every sense in my body was alive to sensation, a quickening, heart-beating desire to possess and be possessed, which both thrilled and frightened me.
Her cheeks were of the oval kind; and in her right she had a dimple, which the least smile discovered.’ Tom placed a finger on my dimpled cheek and softly stroked my skin. ‘Her chin had certainly its share in forming the beauty of her face; but it was difficult to say if it was either large or small, though perhaps it was rather of the former kind.’ He held my chin and tilted it towards him. ‘Her complexion had rather more of the lily than of the rose; but when exercise or modesty increased her natural colour, no vermilion could equal it.’
I gasped and whispered, ‘Sophia Western.’
‘So, Miss Austen, you are a reader of great literature also, I surmise,’ he said, releasing me, and I blushed even more if that was possible when he finished his quote from one of my favourite books, Tom Jones. And then I realised he fancied himself as the hero who also wore a white coat.
‘I must admit, I am a great admirer of Mr Fielding’s work.’
Her pure and eloquent blood
 spoke in her cheeks,’ Tom continued, ‘and so distinctly wrought
 that one might almost say her body thought.’
My hands flew to my face. It was true, every emotion showed in my countenance: I’d always been teased about my scarlet complexion, but this was worse than anything I’d ever endured before.
I was anxious to change the subject. ‘Will you come to the house? I am sure my mother and father would be very pleased to see you.’
Tom looked thoughtful. ‘Whilst I am diverted by the idea of such convivial entertainment, my preference would be for some increase of fresh air. Besides, my horse needs some exercise. Would you care to join me?’
‘I’m afraid I do not ride, Mr Lefroy. The horses on our land have always been needed for work, and I have not the leisure …’
I did not know what else to say. I certainly didn’t want him to know that we were too poor to have such an activity as a given right.
‘But I know how much you would enjoy the pursuit, Miss Austen. You have such a vigorous look about you.’
I considered the fact that my face must be the colour of beetroot by now. ‘It is of no disadvantage to me, but I must admit, I like the idea of riding a horse.’
‘You were born for it, Miss Austen. And, if you will permit me, I shall help you to ride mine, though you may not like to ride astride the animal.’
My first instinct was to protest, but I didn’t want to appear as if I was frightened by it or bothered by the fact that there was no lady’s saddle. I could never resist a challenge.
‘I’d prefer to ride like a man, I must admit. When I was a little girl Mr Hilliard used to put me on top of the horses and lead me round for my pleasure.’
Tom showed me how to hold the reins, and I watched him put his foot in the stirrup and bounce up onto the horse. He dismounted and then it was my turn. I clung to the reins as he’d done, put my hand on the pommel and placed my foot in the iron. I started to bounce, and then strong hands were about my waist, the touch of his fingers staying with me long after I was lifted to my seat.
‘You will not be frightened, Miss Austen, if my horse should dance about a little at first setting off. He will, most likely, give a plunge or two, and he is full of spirits, playful as can be, but there is no vice in him.’
I was fearless, and I felt supremely confident as if I was formed for a horsewoman; and to the true joy of the exercise something was added in Tom’s attendance and instructions, which made me unwilling to dismount. At first my companion and I made a circuit of the neighbouring field at a foot’s pace; then, at my suggestion, we rose into a canter, Tom running alongside. After a few minutes we stopped entirely. Tom was near to me; he spoke with that faint trace of an Irish burr, so softly, I had to lean in close to hear him. He was directing my management of the bridle; he took hold of my hand and his fingers entwined with mine. It was exhilarating, every moment flooded my being with pure pleasure, and I could not think when I had ever felt so happy.
‘If only we were both mounted,’ said Tom, ‘we could take a ride together. I could show you how fast this horse can ride.’
‘But, that must be impossible, Mr Lefroy!’
‘It can be done, I assure you, Miss Austen.’
‘If someone should see us …’
‘There is no one about on such a cold morning, but if you care only for your reputation, and have no wish to experience the thrill of a gallop, Miss Austen, there is little I can do to persuade you.’
‘I do wish to gallop through the lanes, Mr Lefroy.’
‘No, Miss Austen. Indeed, you are right, it would not be seemly. Please forgive me for suggesting such an outrageous proposal.’
‘Why not climb up beside me,’ I heard myself say, and then realised how shocking that sounded. But, in the next moment, he gently released the reins from my grasp and pulled himself into the saddle shifting his body behind me. It was a snug fit, his thighs gripped mine, and he drew me closely to him, one arm encircling my waist. Tom urged the horse on, our breath misting on the frosty air as we galloped through the lanes powdered in white. We moved in rhythm together, flying faster and faster, as if chased by the devil himself. Blood pounded in my ears, and my heart was beating so fast I felt Tom must be aware of it through the gloved hand that gripped my ribcage so tightly. I didn’t want it to end, but when I saw the church looming in the distance, I felt some shame for what I had done. I did not want to imagine what Madame Lefroy might think if she saw me, and begged Tom to stop. He jumped down with a grin before turning to face me, encircling his hands round my waist. They stayed there, his thumbs resting above my hipbones and when he clasped me tighter to release me to the ground, my body clenched with longing.
‘Miss Austen, you are a bold rider, indeed, and as fearless as any Irish friend I have.’
I could not help but smile, but when he pulled me down and I fell into his arms, I was all confusion. He held me for a moment, and I lost myself in those eyes, which enchanted me. I wanted to feel his lips on mine, and I willed him to kiss me. His eyes strayed to my lips and his mouth moved towards mine. Then he seemed to think better of it and let me go.
‘Perhaps this was not a very good idea after all, Miss Austen.’ He started to walk away leading the horse with him. ‘Are you trying to bewitch me?’
I didn’t know how to answer. ‘I am not certain what you are about, Mr Lefroy.’
‘What would your parents say if they knew we’d been spending time alone together? Forgive me, I should never have suggested that we ride.’
‘I enjoyed it. I thank you, Mr Lefroy. No one has ever taken the time to show me how to be a horsewoman. It is a lesson I shall not forget.’
‘But, it is one we can never repeat.’

Tom wore an odd expression. Something between a scowl and a look of regret, I could not fathom what he was thinking. He had withdrawn from me and the Tom who had laughed and been so warm was gone. I began to regret what I’d done. How could I have let my guard down so much? I couldn’t begin to wonder what he must think of me. Stepping back, I started to speak of mundane subjects but Tom was already fading. In shades of sepia, I saw the past fold and collapse as if it were a piece of ancient origami, the paper disintegrating before my eyes. I watched it bend and crumble, diminish and fragment until the snow-splintered pictures vanished into the summer sun, and the fields and meadows, where just a moment ago I had been with Tom. Keeping in the shade, I saw the sweeping hillsides in the distance, the villages separated by hedgerows running through them like green ribbon, tall spires of pink foxgloves growing on the bank, and the woods, dark and mysterious with beeches, oaks and silver birch trees. Dappled cows sat in the shade of a giant oak tree in the middle of a golden field, whisking their tails as a blackbird sang above my head. As I walked along I tried to recall where I’d been that morning. Yet, somehow, it all looked a lot different, the road seemed dustier and narrower, and it wasn’t long before I began to question whether I’d taken a wrong turning. I looked behind to get a better sense of the way I had come and didn’t recognise where I was at all. In front, the lane became little more than a dirt track where patches of fresh green grass grew down the middle. If I left the road I was sure to get lost, but then as the road inclined again, I saw the church, and I knew I was home.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Searching for Mr Tilney Giveaway winners!

Thank you so much to all the lovely people who entered the Giveaways and sent such lovely messages-I will treasure them all.

I am pleased to announce the names of the two winners as Isabel M for Giveaway One








 and Teresa B for Giveaway Two



Congratulations - I hope you enjoy your prizes!

If you'd like to read the first three chapters, click here for Chapter One,  here for Chapter Two and here for Chapter Three


Both the paperback and kindle versions are now live and available on Amazon if you want to read more! For a limited period the kinde price is 99p in the UK and $1.22 in the US!

Paperback US

Friday, April 14, 2017

Chapter Three - Searching for Mr Tilney

I've loved writing Searching for Mr Tilney and I hope you'll enjoy reading it too. 

Both the paperback and kindle versions are now live and available on Amazon if you want to read more! For a limited period the kinde price is 99p in the UK and $1.22 in the US!


If you missed the previous chapters, click here for Chapter One, and here for Chapter Two.

Chapter Three

It was just a second or two, but I was so surprised that I shut the door again before I’d even begun to register what on earth was happening. I was in such a state of shock my first thought was that I must have opened the wrong door, so I traced my steps back to the bathroom in the dark, managing to stub my toe in the process before daring to put on the landing light. I was feeling spooked by the whole experience, though to be perfectly honest, it was very disappointingly lacking in scariness. When I got back to my room I opened the door, hesitatingly, but as in all the best frightening tales the vision was gone.
I’ve decided I saw a snapshot in time, as anyone living in an old house might see, though I really feel it was more than that. The girl, the room and all the objects were real and solid - not a wisp of ethereal ghostliness or ectoplasm, yet a part of me still can’t quite believe it. Had I been dreaming?
One thing I did investigate immediately was the room next to mine. It’s a very small bedroom with just space for a narrow bed and a small wardrobe, and I wondered if it might perhaps have been a dressing room at one time. Whoever I’d intruded upon was just as untidy as me, I thought, and it made me like her instantly. And, unlike a dream that usually fades on waking, I couldn’t stop thinking about her or wondering how my seeing her had been possible. Her face was extraordinarily vivid in my mind, with her flushed cheeks, and lips curving like a mischievous cherub into a pink smile. I distinctly saw the dark tendrils of hair curling on her forehead, and her forthright gaze, arresting eyes like topaz jewels. It was exciting to think that the possibility of ghosts were real, even if they were very ordinary, quite unlike Cathy wandering alone through the dead of night in Wuthering Heights.

***

Since writing the above, I’ve spent another day shopping with Ellen and had another quiet evening in with very little news or happenings to report. Though I’ve not seen or experienced any further strange visions I still can’t get it out of my head that what I saw was not a dream.
Before I went to bed last night Ellen said we’d be busy again today, and that we’ll be out for most of it. I suspect there’ll be more shopping involved, and I must admit I don’t relish the idea of traipsing round the shops buying more Christmas presents. What I’d really like to do is stay in, to see if I can enter that magical world once more. If it was my imagination playing tricks on me I shall be very sorry, but I shall never know if I have to go out all day.
I can smell breakfast, and my watch tells me it’s time to go down. I’m wearing the green needlecord dress today, which makes me feel very “Jane Austen” with its empire line and flower motifs. Perhaps Henry Tilney will be waiting for me in the breakfast parlour!

***

Marianne's bonnet
Breakfast was delicious, though if Mrs Partridge is going to feed us bacon and egg every morning, I think it will be no time at all until my new clothes will be feeling tight.
‘You need to keep up your strength, Caroline,’ said Ellen. ‘Your mother will never forgive me if you go home looking scrawny and under-fed.’
That’s not very likely, I thought, on a diet of cream teas and fried bread, but I know Ellen means well.
I was just enjoying the last delicious mouthful of fried egg when there was a knock at the front door. I always think the sound of a door knocker holds so much promise of excitement, and immediately thought of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility waiting for Mr Willoughby. But, there was no dashing suitor at the door or Colonel Brandon, only the postman with a delivery for me - a most mysterious parcel. It was huge, and I couldn’t begin to think what was inside. When I opened it up I found the most beautiful writing box. It had a mahogany writing slope, was lined with green baize, and complete with glass bottles for ink, a penknife, two stubby looking quills, a pair of old spectacles, and several stumps of sealing wax.
There was also a letter.

Dear Caroline,
How are you, my darling? I hope you’re settling in and that the Bath air is working wonders - I trust all is going well!
I meant to give you the enclosed before you left, but in my usual muddle-headed way forgot all about it. Anyway, I found it while I was tidying up in one of the attic rooms a couple of weeks ago, and I thought you might like somewhere special to write and keep your journal while you’re in Bath. I’m not quite sure who owned it - there were several ancestors who might have had a writing slope, but I thought you might find it fun to try your hand at using a quill pen.
They made these boxes to withstand all sorts of conditions - for travelling, of course, and many of them accompanied soldiers to war and back again. It has drop-down handles for ease of carrying, and a side drawer, which opens when a brass pin inside is released - there’s also a reading stand and a working lock and key.
Do you think Jane Austen must have written a journal too, like her heroine Catherine Morland when she went to Bath? You will, I know, remember the passage in Northanger where that charming rascal Henry Tilney quizzes her about it, saying she was bound to mention him in it. I wonder if Jane met such a young man herself and wrote about him in her diary.
Well, my darling, I must stop writing so I can get this off in the post - have a marvellous time and enjoy yourself!
Much love always,
Mum.

Ellen and Roger seemed as excited as I was to see the box, and when we’d discovered how to pull out the brass pin inside, the drawer was released, and it sprang open. Disappointingly, there were no secret letters or journals inside, but we examined all the bottles and quills before Ellen suggested I try using one for a bit of fun. On a piece of cream card I tried my best to write as I’d seen Jane Austen’s letters addressed: Caroline Heath, Flat 5, 44, Fitzroy Street, London, W1. I stopped to admire my handiwork; the flat I lived in during term time seemed a lifetime away. My friends who lodged with me had been so kind when I fell ill, trying not to tell me too many exciting details about all the fun they were having while I was stuck in bed. When would I be able to return?
‘You must miss art school,’ said Ellen looking concerned. I think she guessed what I was thinking.
‘I do, but I’d much rather be here with you.’ I really meant it, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else now, and thought how kind she was to have brought me to Bath.
Ellen smiled. ‘Why don’t you go and find a place for your new writing box in your bedroom,’ she said. ‘We’ll go out after lunch if you still feel like it, but the morning is yours to do just as you wish.’
I couldn’t wait, and ran upstairs as quickly as the heavy box would allow, tucking it under my arm before turning the stiff door knob. It wouldn’t give, so I put the box down, twisted the knob once more, pushing against the door with my shoulder and practically falling into the room when it opened unexpectedly easily. It felt almost as if someone on the other side were playing a trick, holding the door fast before pulling it open suddenly. It made me think about the girl I’d seen in the middle of the night until I told myself I was being silly.
Underneath the middle window there was an ancient desk with a lamp set on it, which I decided would make a suitable place for my writing box, and if I moved the chair placed beneath the adjacent window I could sit there, write my journal, and stare out of the window for inspiration. Feeling very pleased with the new arrangement, I opened up the box, and laid my journal on the slope.
There was a wonderful view down Pulteney Street, and if it hadn’t been for the cars roaring past down below I could quite have fancied myself in another time as I looked out on the golden stone houses, standing to attention like soldiers in their best uniforms. I decided to make a few lists in the back of my journal first. Being away from home was helping me think about the work I had to do without as much panic as when I was there, and I wrote down a list of everything I hoped to achieve over the Christmas holidays when I got back home. I even did a few preliminary sketches, though I didn’t want to use up all the pages of my journal for sketching. Thinking of Christmas meant I ought to think about buying presents of my own, and so the next list consisted of ideas of what to buy for Mum and my friends. Then, because I was feeling so positive I made a list of future goals though one or two were bordering on being over ambitious, and I decided optimism is all very well, but short term goals were probably the best, and wouldn’t lead to biting disappointment. I was enjoying myself so much, lost in my own world, and so glad to be feeling some creative energy again that time seemed to be slipping away very quickly. I’d just got time to do a few sketches, and pulled out the sketchpad from my case that I’d thought wouldn’t see the light of day. The writing slope was just the right angle for drawing, and I sharpened my pencil in readiness.
The sun, a glowing ball of winter pearl had come out from a bank of cloud and was shining so strongly into my eyes and on to the paper that it was blinding, making it impossible to see. The old shutters on the windows were folded back, but it looked as if they were stuck fast, encrusted with at least a hundred years or more of white paint. I tried them anyway, and one half unfolded with a bit of persuasion, but it still wasn’t enough to stop the light from piercing my eyes. It looked as if a little bit of paint was acting like glue, and suddenly remembering the little penknife in the writing box, I fetched it out. I only wanted to scrape away what shouldn’t have been there anyway, and told myself I wasn’t doing any harm, but as I chipped away at the hardened paint I could see it wasn’t going to give way easily. At last I was making some progress, and fitting my fingers down between the spaces I’d created, I got some purchase on the shutter door and pulled hard. It made such a noise as the paint finally gave way, splintering in shards when it moved, I thought for a horrible moment that I’d damaged it. Suddenly the shutter swung forward with a resigned creak. There was a lot of dust and dirt, which fell all over the windowsill and drifted to the floor making an awful mess, but it was free at last. And so was something else that had fallen from the deep recess behind. It looked like a cross between a giant butterfly’s cocoon and a spider’s nest, darkest grey and furry with what looked like two hundred years’ worth of cobwebs wrapped round it, and all I could do was stare at it to begin with. I didn’t want to touch it at first, but it didn’t look as if it were alive with tiny creatures, and when I poked it gently the dust balls enrobing it simply rolled away until the object underneath was revealed.
A knock at the door made me jump out of my skin, and Ellen’s voice rang out, piercing my dream-like state.
‘Lunch will be ready in five minutes,’ she called, ‘Mrs Partridge has made some soup which should warm us up before we head out into the cold.’
I said I’d be down straight away, though I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything but the little parcel I was now unravelling in my hands, and wished I could stay longer to examine it. Wrapped in silk that was rotting away in places I discovered a leather-bound notebook inside. Turning the fragile paper pages very carefully it became immediately clear I’d found a journal, and a very old one at that, with a year date on every page for 1788, written in a very neat hand. The writing was so small and so hard to decipher I could only just read the first sentence of the first entry.
We are arrived at my uncle’s house, and it is quite as grand as I imagined! Though I couldn’t wait to read more I closed the diary reluctantly, wrapping it up again and putting it away carefully inside the drawer of my writing box. It would need considerably more time to study it, and all my powers of concentration to read the tiny script, and right now I needed to tidy up before Mrs Partridge or Ellen discovered the mess I’d made. I rinsed my flannel under the hot water in the basin, and did my best to tidy up, wiping down the recesses where the shutters had been stuck with paint, never seeing light for what must have been a very long time. Folding them back, I decided they looked pretty much as they had done before I’d forced them open, and resolved not to mention what I’d done or tell them about my exciting find until I had a chance to examine it further. I raked a comb through my hair, pulled on a cardigan to help keep me warm, and ran downstairs.

***

‘We shall be out for the rest of the afternoon,’ said Ellen, as Mrs Partridge ladled out warming tomato soup into our bowls, ‘And then Roger has booked an early supper at a dear French restaurant we both love. Do tell Caroline our thrilling plans for the evening, Roger. He is wonderful, you know.’
Roger put down the newspaper he was reading for a moment. ‘We’re off to the theatre.’
‘Oh, that is exciting,’ I said, ‘I love a play.’
‘It’s Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol,’ he went on, ‘I know you like a ghost story, and Ellen said you’d like the Victorian fashions too.’
‘Yes, I’m very interested in costume design; I shall look forward to it, thank you, Roger,’ I said, thinking I might cope better with the idea of an afternoon’s shopping now such an evening lay ahead.
So, I really am glad about being in Bath with the Applebys, and I’m feeling very spoiled. I will write to Mum this evening after we’ve been to the theatre, and thank her for the writing slope. I can’t wait to tell her everything … except about the ghost, of course. In fact, I think it best if I keep that little episode all to myself - even now I can’t help thinking it was some strange kind of dream induced by being half asleep. I wondered when I came back upstairs to fetch my scarf whether I’d see her again, though I had a feeling I’d just find my room, which I did, and the thought occurred that it was likely a one-off occasion and I might never see her again.

I hope you enjoyed it!
I'm having a GIVEAWAY to celebrate the launch of Searching for Mr Tilney-  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Launch Day and Giveaway for Searching for Mr Tilney!


I'm celebrating the official publication day for Searching for Mr Tilney today with a GIVEAWAY!

Giveaway One



First, there's a book bundle of a paperback copy of the book, plus an illustrated copy of Northanger Abbey, and a small patterned notebook/journal, as pictured above. Illustrations in the copy of Northanger Abbey are by Philip Gough.

GIVEAWAY TWO



 Giveaway Two includes a paperback copy of Searching for Mr Tilney, a vintage style journal for you to jot down your own thoughts like my heroine Caroline, and a goose feather pen to write them down.

I hope you feel tempted to join in and help me celebrate! All you have to do is reply here saying which prize you'd like. I can only accept entries that are submitted in the contact box. I will reply to every one so if you don't hear from me, let me know in the comment box below. Closing date for entries: Wednesday April 19 2017.
Thank you very much to all the lovely people who have bought the paperback or downloaded a copy already. This is my last Jane Austen book for a while - I'm planning to take some time out. I've loved writing these books and it's been such a pleasure to get to know my readers since my very first attempts at putting a book together with Effusions of Fancy - thank you for all your wonderful encouragement over the years and for your generous, uplifting letters and comments even more. You will never know how much they've truly meant to me.
Jane x

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chapter Two - Searching for Mr Tilney

I've loved writing Searching for Mr Tilney and I hope you'll enjoy reading it too - here's Chapter Two.

I'm hosting a giveaway tomorrow on Launch Day - I hope you'll join me to celebrate.

Both the paperback and kindle versions are now live and available on Amazon if you want to read more! For a limited period the kindle price is 99p in the UK and $1.22 in the US!



Chapter Two


Caroline

Bath, Somerset

November 1975


Having survived shopping, which wasn’t at all the trial I was expecting and turned out to be fun, I’m now writing this in my new bedroom. I’d thought when we first got here that I might as well be Catherine Morland because the houses haven’t changed since Jane Austen’s time, and stepping inside the hallway and the reception rooms on the first floor you might be forgiven for thinking you’d gone back in time. It’s very Georgian, furnished with tourists in mind, and scented with the magical fragrance of a house that’s only ever known brimming flower bowls of milky narcissus and heady lilac in spring or spires of delphiniums and plump roses in summer. It’s full of the sights and smells of life lived luxuriously - elegant Chippendale furniture, watered silk on the walls, embroidered cushion covers on satin sofas in the drawing room, and giltwood pier glasses set between the windows.
The scent of fragrant wood smoke, wax candles, and Christmas tangerines linger in the air and the smells in my bedroom are equally delicious - Patchouli by Houbigant on the dressing table, a porcelain pomander in the wardrobe, and crisp clean sheets on my bed, sweetly aromatic with the scent of lemon verbena. I have my own washbasin in a closed off compartment behind a door with an illuminated mirror, and glass shelves either side where my wash-bag now sits, looking scruffy and out of place. The tablet of soap in a shell dish is the scent of dark, damp woods planted with lilies of the valley, and the towels pure white, soft and fluffy. My room, unlike the rest of the house, is Deco-inspired with the walls papered in deep mulberry with silver geometric patterns, starbursts and jagged edges. There’s even some mirrored furniture from the 1930s, a glass vase full of peacock feathers, and a feather boa trained round the gloriously gothic iron bedstead, which looks as if it’s come straight from Dracula’s castle. It’s just a dream!
Anyway, I must write down how I got on. Ellen, as she now insists I call her, was not only overwhelmingly generous, but very kind, and I feel ashamed to think how much I’d dreaded the idea of shopping with her. We walked up to Jolly’s department store on Milsom Street, and she took me to the boutique section, after all. There were so many dresses I liked and Ellen said I could choose any three. I picked out a romantic Laura Ashley style dress in green needlecord, one in purple velvet with a wrap-over skirt, and then Ellen said I must have a dress for a formal evening.
‘Try on this maxi-dress,’ she said, taking a silk crêpe de chine dress, the colour of rose petals, from the rack.
I knew it must cost a small fortune and bit my lip, but Ellen wouldn’t hear of me finding something less expensive.
‘I know your mother would want you to have a nice dress to wear in the evening,’ she said, ‘and it really would be my treat to see you in it. Indulge me, just this once. There might be a dance before Christmas, and you could wear it to a disco, if you wanted.’
It was beautiful, but I’d never been to a formal dance, and I couldn’t imagine wearing it anywhere else. I’d never learned ballroom dancing, though Dad used to let me stand on his feet when he waltzed me round the room. When I tried the dress on, the silk felt exquisite next to my skin, and I loved the halter neck straps. I stood in front of the dressing room mirror, and couldn’t believe quite how sophisticated I looked, especially when I pulled up my hair.
‘The rose brings out the blue in your eyes,’ said Ellen. ‘You’ve got beautiful eyes, like a china doll.’
I felt very satisfied with that compliment; feeling that it must be true if Ellen, with all her sharp comments, said so.
I had to choose a pair of shoes too, and it was Ellen who picked out the pink suede platforms. The assistant, laden with clothes, bustled off to the counter to pack it all in tissue paper and the kind of designer boxes I’d only ever dreamed about. When the assistant said, ‘What a lucky girl to have such a kind mother,’ Ellen seemed to glow with pride, and I decided I’d probably not considered how hard it must be for Ellen to see my mum and me, and all the lovely times we have together. So, I didn’t correct her, and just said I was very lucky indeed. Ellen looked a little misty-eyed, took my hand and squeezed it, and then suggested tea at the Pump Rooms.
It was a cold and damp November afternoon, and the light was beginning to fade as we pushed open the revolving door. The room seemed to steam with the freezing air brought in on coats and gloves, and everyone inside seemed excited to be there, talking at the tops of their voices, glad to have found a seat in the warm. I sat down, fascinated by the hustle and bustle. I’d only ever seen a glimpse inside before, and never been for tea. The scene couldn’t be much changed from the one Jane Austen might have known, I thought, and looking at all the faces, I fancied I could see several resemblances of the characters Jane loved to write about. There was Isabella Thorpe, a young lady with an eye for the young men who was tossing her hair over her shoulder and staring at a man on an adjacent table until she gained his attention. Even the arrogant looking man sitting beside her looked just as I imagined her brother, John Thorpe. I saw his slicked back hair, his leather driving gloves, and an ostentatious key ring informing the world he owned a luxury car. I spotted Mrs Allen in a fur coat not too dissimilar to Ellen’s, and Mr Allen sitting opposite her, a plaster cast on his leg, rather than a bandaged gouty leg. But, try as I might I couldn’t see Henry Tilney, which was a real disappointment. I’ve always had a problem with Henry - I’m blinded by love, I suppose, but I can’t see his face. I can visualise so much - his wavy hair brushing the top of his starched white shirt, an arched brow, and a quizzical smile, but there isn’t a complete picture. His coat of sober black presents no problems, the covert strength hiding beneath the satin waistcoat, and the breeches smoothed tautly over his thighs are as clear as if I’ve always known him … intimately … but his face continues to elude me.
At that precise daydreaming moment, the silhouette of a young man’s profile fell in shadow on the white tablecloth. It startled me, not least because there was something quite diabolical in the pointed beard, and the way his hair was styled, which made me think of two horns until I looked up and saw that my imagination had run away, as usual. A young waiter was asking for our order. Ellen gave precise instructions while I stared, at his goat-like beard, curling moustache, and the wavy hair, stuck up here and there in unruly tufts. I’m not a fan of either beards or moustaches, and I couldn’t help thinking he should get a razor. I think he must have caught me staring because his hand went up to his chin, and he stroked the dark hair thoughtfully.
‘Which would you prefer, Caroline … Earl Grey or Darjeeling?’ Ellen was asking.
‘Oh, Earl Grey, please,’ I said, aware that the young man was staring at me. I looked up, and caught his glance. He smiled in a friendly way, and I felt myself blush.
‘Is this your first time in Bath?’ he asked, and I saw Ellen smile as she looked from him to me and back again.
‘No,’ I said, and was going to leave it at that, but I knew Ellen would think me rude if I didn’t answer more politely. ‘I’ve been to Bath once before, but this is my first time at the Pump Rooms for tea.’
‘An excellent choice, though I would say that, of course. The sandwiches are delicious, and the cakes guaranteed to add inches where you don’t want them, though I’m sure you ladies don’t need to worry about that. Let me know what you think of the chocolate éclairs … they’re my favourite.’
He left then with our order, and I stared down at my place, fiddling nervously with my cutlery, determined not to look at his retreating back. Ellen was still watching me, and I knew what she was thinking.
‘What a very charming young man,’ she said looking at me intently, ‘and quite handsome too, though perhaps a little too beatnik for my tastes.’
‘He’d be better looking if he brushed that unruly mop on the top of his head … or had a shave,’ I said, suppressing the urge not to giggle at Ellen’s comments.
‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘I don’t know why men like growing facial hair so much. I’m sure if they were kissed with wire wool every morning, they would stop it, immediately.’
Pump Room tea, Bath
I laughed, especially when I thought about Roger’s bushy beard, and before we’d both stopped giggling the waiter was back with a tray of teapots and china. I watched him take Ellen’s napkin and flick it out with a flourish before placing it on her knee, and then waited in dread for him to do the same to me. He seemed to bend right over until I was staring at his ear and the sideburns that melded into his beard. He straightened, and I caught his fragrance, a hint of Bergamot, but sharper than the scent of the tea that he proceeded to pour into delicate china teacups.
‘Would you like me to pour the milk?’ he asked.
Ellen declined his offer, and said we should prefer to do it ourselves.
‘Have you been here long?’ he said, placing the jug before her.
‘We’ve just arrived this morning,’ said Ellen, pouring a spot of milk into her tea, ‘and as you see, we’ve been shopping already.’
‘Ah yes, ladies love shopping in Bath, and there’s lots to be done before Christmas. Have you got much planned while you’re here?’
‘We haven’t made exact plans yet, but I’m sure I shall be doing a lot of shopping,’ Ellen replied, beaming up at him.
‘I meant have you many activities planned … are you going to the Christmas ball, for instance?’
He was looking at me now, and I had no idea of the answer.
‘I shall certainly see about tickets,’ Ellen said, ‘and I’m sure Caroline would love to go dancing.’
‘Well, everybody in Bath will be there … it’s always a very grand affair … black tie and ball gowns, and lots of people jigging about who don’t know how to do the old dances. Though none of that matters, there are dances for everybody, and they all jump up to do “the twist” after a few drinks.’
‘Oh, Caroline, doesn’t that sound wonderful? And it would give you a chance to wear your new frock.’
I smiled weakly, thinking that my idea of fun was very far removed from the kind of ball he was describing, and wished the young man would hurry up and go and get our food. I think he sensed what I was thinking and left us, not before he’d winked and grinned at me.
‘He looks a bit like that Swedish singer, only not as filled out, don’t you think?’ Ellen said. ‘You know, the one from Abba … is it Björn?’
‘I thought it was Benny who had the beard,’ I said, thinking that the conversation was becoming completely surreal. I wasn’t an Abba fan, and the comparison was hardly flattering.
‘Well, whichever one, I do think our waiter looks a bit like him, even if his hair and eyes are not quite the right colour. He looks hippyish, but very ‘with it’, I daresay.’
Fortunately I didn’t need to reply to these observations, as the bearded one reappeared with a tiered glass stand filled with sandwiches, scones and cake.
‘There’s lots to do in Bath besides dancing,’ he continued, putting a plate before me. ‘Do you like the theatre or cinema?’
‘Yes, I like both,’ I said, then instantly regretted answering so positively, and for an awful moment thought he might suggest taking me. All I could think about was sitting next to him in the dark with that devilish beard scratching my face as he attempted to kiss me.
‘There’s a horror film on at the Little Theatre,’ he went on, ‘I’m going with my friends next weekend.’
I was sure my sigh of relief was not only audible, but also very visual, though I didn’t care. I kept my eyes on my plate, and when I looked up he’d finally gone.
‘I think he’s rather sweet on you,’ said Ellen, ‘not that I’d encourage you to go out with him. I’m not sure your mother would approve of you going around Bath with a waiter.’
‘I don’t think my mother cares about things like that,’ I said, knowing Ellen would probably be shocked. ‘But, have no fear, he’s not my type, and I’m sure if I was his, he’d have asked me on the spot. He’s just that sort of guy.’
Ellen didn’t say any more. I hadn’t realised how hungry I was, and soon we’d eaten everything. The éclairs were delicious, just as he’d said they’d be, and I was almost disappointed that I couldn’t tell him. Another waiter came to clear our table, and when Ellen asked where our bearded friend had gone, he said he’d finished his shift and left to go home.

***

Something strange happened in the night, and I don’t quite know what to think about it. We had an uneventful evening after a light supper left on a tray by Mrs Partridge who will be coming in every day to do the cooking and cleaning - though I really wasn’t hungry after the enormous tea we’d eaten. I was feeling tired after such a busy day, and so went off to bed early. I read my ancient copy of Northanger Abbey for a chapter or two until I felt I was dozing off, and managed to put out the light before settling down under the covers.
I’m not sure if it was a noise that woke me or the strange dream I was having about being chased down an alley by a bearded man, but I woke with a start, instantly wide awake. I lay in the dark for a moment or two thinking I might nod off again, but I just tossed and turned before deciding I might settle down better after a visit to the bathroom. Though I tried not to make a sound, the old cistern made such an angry roar as the water flushed, I thought I must have woken the whole household. I crept along in the dark, feeling my way back along the walls because I thought putting the light on would certainly wake the Applebys, though I could hear them both snoring quite loudly in their beds as I passed their room. It was when I opened the door to my bedroom that I was completely surprised, and even now as I write it down, I can’t quite believe it.
I was shocked, firstly, by the fact that it was broad daylight and sunny instead of being night time and pitch black, though it didn’t look like my room at all. Thinking about it now, the windows looking out onto Pulteney Street appeared to be just the same, but there was a large four poster bed dominating the space, hung with curtains - I remember how light and airy they looked, palest ivory with sprigs of flowers, swaying slightly in the breeze coming through the open window - very feminine. A pile of leather-bound books looked carelessly flung over the unmade bed, as if they were all being read at once, ribbon bookmarks dividing the pages, some left open. There was a dressing table draped in the same fabric, which had an oval mahogany mirror on a stand with drawers, and was swathed in beautiful lace. I saw several silver-topped crystal boxes winking in the sunshine, a decorated fan, and two porcelain boxes painted with roses - open, as if in use. A chair was covered entirely with clothes tumbling to the floor, and a chest of drawers under the window had all of its drawers pulled out with pretty accessories falling out of them - what looked to be several sheer shawls or veils, pale pink stockings, and petticoats in the sheerest silk I ever saw. It looked like a scene from a Georgian museum, only more realistically displayed - I’d never seen anything look so authentic.
And then the door, which normally houses my little basin opened as I stared, and through it walked a girl who looked about fourteen. Dressed in her underclothes, a white shift almost to the floor, she looked just like pictures I’ve seen in history of costume books. She had a lively look about her, and when she noticed I was standing there, she looked straight at me with her bright, hazel eyes, and said, ‘Have you come to help me dress?’


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