Monthly Archives: June 2012

Are We Nearly There Yet?

My summer holiday is approaching, a blissful week at the British seaside, sticky lollies and sandy toes, paddling in the near sub-zero water. But for a holiday to feel really worthwhile there’s got to be a bit of travelling to get there. I’ve been on very near holidays, and holidays on your own doorstep just don’t feel the same. And travelling with two young children in the car does put a bit of tension into the start of any trip. Fortunately my two aren’t quite up to asking ‘are we nearly there yet?’ but it can’t be far off.


The Landau, a convertible carriage suspended on elliptical springs.

At least we don’t have to travel by carriage. I’ve seen horse drawn carriages. Plump upholstery, velvet curtains, hot bricks at your feets, not so very different from the modern day car. But then you look underneath and see the suspension is made of wood.


Now I’ve worked as an engineer, and the bowed curves of the suspension are strong, deliberately designed to give and dampen the bumps on the road. And in later versions, the wood is leaved between metal plates, but wood? Forgive me if for this holiday at least, I look forward to the cushioned metal springs which, with any luck, will lead to nodding heads for as much of the journey as possible.

In the following extract from Braving Madness, Betty is every bit as impatient in her carriage journey.

The streets had been empty when the door to Edward’s town house closed. Even in the dark, the funeral wreath had stood out in high relief against the white paint as they’d driven away. It was a foreboding beginning.  

The wind had been relentless, dragging reluctant clouds across the blackened sky so the intermittent moonlight had forced the coachman to a crawl. The initial excitement of the journey had long since faded; replaced by fear her cousin would be aware of her absence.

With her need for sleep abandoning her, Betty had watched the scenery creep by, inch by inch, until it felt as if her shoulders must be bunched about her ears. Now, the morning sun was beginning to creep over the horizon and with any luck they’d be able to pick up the pace.

Bonnets and Pin pricks

To be a milliner you need to have finger tips of leather. It’s the only way. In my millinery dabbles I made about six hats of varying styles, but they all had one thing in common; my bruised and sore fingers. There are just so many layers of buckram, lining, brims and facing, and none of these materials really stretch unless you dampen them so you end up with pleats galore. And somehow one sharp needle is supposed to get through all of that. A millinery needle is one hell of a needle though; pointy enough to cleave through all those layers and thick enough not to bend when you apply a serious amount of pressure. Sadly this means when you slip, which you will do, it is also pointy and thick enough to make an impressive hole in your finger.


In the following extract from Braving Madness, Betty is sat in Edward’s carriage, in the process of attempting to mend her hat. Her maid, Annie has just made a dash for the inn, partly in need of the facilities and partly to avoid Betty.

The girl didn’t have the sense blessed to a newly hatched chicken. Betty made another viscous stab at the bonnet’s brim. There was no reason why the girl shouldn’t feel free to talk to her. Hadn’t she ever seen anybody sew a hat before? Straw was tough. You had to deal with it firmly. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Edward hadn’t apologised.

Mind you, there had been no apology for the bonnet-eating episode either, so she was a fool to think he was going to apologise for kissing her. Or not kissing her. She let out a groan. It was beginning to make her head ache.


Up the Twisting Staircase

My university didn’t really do modern accommodation, or at least my college didn’t. Instead students were tucked away past twisting staircases in rooms with sloping ceilings, leaded roofs and windows with unevenly blown, half inch thick glass, mottled with imperfections.

The dining hall would make any Harry Potter fan weep with envy, and half the lawns were discreetly marked with those little signs telling you to stay off the grass. In my second year I could open my window at night and if I had dared I could have climbed out into Phillip Pullman’s novels and joined Lyra in her midnight scramble across Oxford’s spires.

It was an absorbing world, comforting and secluded, an education in itself.


In the following extract from Braving Madness, Edward is entering a tavern seeking that same sanctuary.

He was a fool; a fool to kiss her, a fool to look for pleasure in the wrong place. And thanks to his assistance, she’d probably catch pneumonia and die, and he’d be a fool without a bride.

Nearing in the inner door, candlelight glimmered through the dimpled glass panes, reflections distorted and twisted on the smooth surface. Inside was a haven from the cold, and, apart from the odd serving maid, a sanctuary from opinionated women. Men huddled over their brew after their days work, their low voices mixing with the soft clink of pewter and the rush of ale flowing from the barrels standing behind the bar.

Swimming in Tea

My family is inordinately fond of tea, the brewed kind, although there is definitely a fondness for the scone and cake kind as well. When my dad still worked, tea was brought to him in a pint sized mug, the ultimate bribe. On a busy day sometimes he’d have enough to swim in. And my mum is no different. She can happily have two cups of tea before she’ll even venture out of bed in the morning. At large family gatherings, the kettle never stops in its endless cycle from cold to boiling and minions (usually gullible son-in-laws) are sent around the rooms laden down with a dozen brimming mugs crowded onto trays equally brimming with spilt tea.

In the following extract, Edward is less keen on the advantages of tea. Foolish man.

The room was bustling. Overexcited young women crowded in from all sides, a pastel army in long trained afternoon dresses, decorated with row upon row of frills and ribbon. And all armed to the teeth with scalding hot cups of tea. It was a damned war zone.

But at least Edward didn’t have to worry about the matchmaking-mamas. Being engaged to two women had its benefits.

Hidden behind an enormous potted fern, Edward scanned the room, desperate for a flash of auburn amongst the blondes and brunettes. Betty had worn pale green the previous day, an impossible hue to spot amidst the sea of insipid pastels.