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Steampunk novel opening excerpt

12 Jun
London, 1888
Chapter 1
Usually, the only enjoyable aspect of the Season was the underground boxing matches. Men were never as agreeable as when they were bloody, sweaty and out of breath. But there was no boxing tonight. Instead, they had been invited to a ball. Everyone who was anyone was present. Unfortunately, every nobody in the radius of 50 miles had bribed a way in as well.  Many miscreants weaseled about the room, begging for a dancing partner. Siobhan MacKenzie beheld the spectacle from the safety of a secluded corner. A light tap on the shoulder made her turn. Her dearest friend and accomplice, Cecilia Stayn. They exchanged a curtsy and a knowing smile.

 “I just arrived. Please tell me I did not miss the compulsory debutante blunder,” Miss Stayn said.

Cecilia had an everlasting smile. Golden locks escaped her fashionable hat and she wore an exquisite red gown with plunging neckline. Siobhan often envied the looks of her friend, especially her fair complexion and light figure. In contrast, Siobhan was rather freckled and curvaceous – though many suitors admired her for it. Sadly, her lack of fortune had prevented them from showing a serious interest. The world could be a mercenary place and in the industrious London, the marriage market mostly consisted of snobs and factory workers. Siobhan was a respectable woman and her father was a devout clergyman. As such, she visited the poor for charitable purposes and had her reputation to think of. Now, as a 25-year old singleton, she was considered a spinster, though she had not lost her bloom; her fiery hair attracted attention wherever she went, though some Englishmen treated her unkindly due to her Irish ancestry. But, having been born and bred in Yorkshire, there were no traces of an Irish accent. She had been brought up a true English lady. Her governess had seen to that. She remembered the many hours of punishment she’d endured at the hands of that woman.

“I am very curious about this scientist we were promised to meet. If it weren’t for him, I would have stayed at home.”

“Gregory Striker? The inventor of the dirigible?” Cecilia asked.

“Yes, indeed. The most brilliant scientist of our time. Allegedly, he will show us his latest discovery. Can you imagine? An exclusive.” 

Siobhan glanced at the door. Sadly, it did not open. She rather hoped for an introduction; perhaps his genius would rub off on her. Siobhan’s genius was in designing her own wardrobe. Most dresses she wore were of her own making and she amused herself by adding brass trinkets to her hats, gloves and belts. She also favoured feathers, beads and unusual colour combinations. Her style was far more conspicuous than her friend’s.

“I wonder what sort of discovery it will be. Everyone expects such great things from him it’s bound to be disappointing,” Cecilia remarked.

But Siobhan had faith in his abilities. Secretly, she hoped it would aid their personal pursuits. A few months ago, a mermaid washed ashore and caused quite a stir. Politicians struggled to decide the best cause of action. Should she be treated as a human or as a fish? Being both, they sent her to the zoo – to be seen by all the world and make them rich. A tradesman invaded the chamber and brutally shot the mermaid; he later claimed that selling mermaid tails would be a lucrative business. The man was executed but that was not the end of it. Local fishermen started hunting for other mermaids. Siobhan and many others feared for the their safety and sympathized with her plight.

As such, they formed the Alliance for Protection of Mythical Creatures and campaigned for equal rights. But the government did not act and snatchers captured dozens of creatures. Their tails were said to be worth thousands a piece. With the black market overrun by their criminal activity, the Alliance started fighting back. The hunters had now become the hunted. Siobhan, Cecilia and her fellow-hunters were committed to their training. They had a club house underground for shooting practice, fencing spars and meetings. Siobhan her favoured weapon was a brass whip that slithered around its target like a snake. Her father did not know she was a Protector. Nor that she wore trousers, suspenders and boots. She did not feel the need to justify her actions to him. Men went boxing. She went hunting. Few encounters with snatchers had a violent conclusion. Protectors always brought their pistols and snatchers were but impoverished fishermen; most could be dissuaded from their present course with a beer.

Still, some were more reluctant to surrender their cargo. Protectors were fast, strong and well-equipped. Vanity caused the occasional hunter to retaliate against them; but without any weapons or wits about them, fights were brief and easily won. Siobhan was still caught in reverie when the doors swung open and a gentleman tall, dark and frowning entered the room. There was no mistaking his authority; he walked with confidence and a sort of intellectual greatness. His dress fashionable and sophisticated, he exuded strength. This was no man to be trifled with. A woman’s lapdog winced and crawled underneath the pillow.

“He does not look like a scientist. Who is he?” Siobhan whispered to her friend.

The stranger found himself the centre of attention but moved through the crowd with the grace of a panther, his dark eyes lively and calculating.

The host, a chubby fellow whose name Siobhan never remembered, hastened to his side to bid him welcome.

“How glad I am you are here, Prof. Striker. We’ve been expecting you.”

The stranger raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not Mr. Striker. Sorry to disappoint you.”

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>Regency Scene – Past Indiscretions

3 Jan

>

A continuation of: http://renate-villerius.blogspot.com/2010/12/bachelor-visits-regency-scene.html

“That’s settled, then. We will send out invitations later this week. There is no fixed date as of yet for the ball but I hope to secure the Crown Inn. They have a ball room that is divine. Naturally, Harley Manor was my first choice but with our extensive guest list, I fear we would be unable to accommodate everyone.”

In Audrey’s opinion, this was no great compliment to Harley Manor but her mother was quite ignorant of these matters. Her father, a very wealthy landowner, was better suited to supervise such delicate situations but business called him away so Josephine was in charge until his return a week from now. Mr. Sharpe took his leave, wished them the very best and expressed his delight at the prospective ball. As the door closed behind him, Mrs. Hamilton ordered some fresh tea and announced her plans for the blissful event.

“You must have new gowns, of course! You cannot stand up with such a man dressed like a farmer’s daughter,” she exclaimed. The critique was aimed at Audrey’s evening dress; creamy silk with a plunging neckline and puff sleeves with ribbon trimmings – purchased only the month before and still considered the height of fashion. But objections were fruitless; no one could reason with such a creature as her mother. “You shall look your very best. All past indiscretions shall be forgotten. All it takes is one dance with that gentleman. A smile and a few words of kindness should do the trick,” she continued

Audrey rarely danced. Not due to some inaptitude on her part but because there were few gentlemen whose company she could tolerate, let alone appreciate or enjoy. Most young men adjourned to London at the commencement of the season, leaving her locked away in the country with old fogies, clergymen and bores. At the beginning of her career as an adult and woman in search of a husband, she had been dispatched to London for a proper coming-out. But after a dozen balls, they had been forced to admit that her admirers, though loyal and clever, applied to her for friendship rather than courtship.

One marriage proposal was received by an elderly gentleman, a second son of a duke. The gentleman professed his love after a cup of tea, biscuit still in hand. But due to his lack of fortune and connections, not to mention the perfect indifference on her side, he was refused. Spiteful and hurt, he spoke of his rejection amongst friends and Audrey’s conduct towards him was pronounced misleading and deceitful. Wherever she went, this supposed error in judgement haunted her and she soon quit London entirely, never to return.

“If all goes well, we may even relocate to London. Should you not like to visit Town? It has been too long, I declare. Surely, your past vices have long been forgotten. It is many years since you were last there. They will have new scandals to speak of.” But on this point Audrey would not surrender.

“I have not the slightest intention of revisiting the place of my only failure.” Though she considered her punishment disproportionate to the crime, the fault was hers; through her youthful enthusiasm and unguarded nature, she had allowed him to believe an attachment had formed between them.

“You are too hard on yourself, my dear. Think of how much you have grown since then. It would be perfectly safe for us to sojourn there. I will not let you jeopardise your future. Your fear is understandable but with all you have to offer to the world, it must be overcome.”

Audrey was silent. Her mother meant well – supported and comforted her when disappointments crossed her path. Though Audrey had always been her favourite, after her scandal her hopes were transferred to Audrey’s younger sister, Catherine, who was recently married to a Duke.

“Besides, with your sister’s recent successes, your reputation will have increased. Only imagine how eager all those fine young men will be to be seen with you.”

Against such sound arguments, even Audrey could not but yield. “Very well. We shall go to London. But we have scarcely any acquaintance in Town. Who shall we call on during our stay?” It worried her. Her friends and relations were not such as possessed townhouses. Instead, they remained in the country, just as they had done for so many years.

“That isn’t true. Mr. Beckham will be in Town. He informed me of the fact only a fortnight ago at Mrs. Berry’s picnic. Apparently, he owns a large townhouse near Grosvenor Square.”

This was no great inducement for Audrey to go to London; Mr. Beckham purchased a big estate in the neighbourhood some weeks ago. Once settled in the community, he called on his neighbours to introduce himself as was the custom. However, when he was expected at Harley Manor, he sent word that he was unable to favour them with a visit and excused himself to join a hunting party up north. Hunting! How could it take precedence over his neighbourly duties? As of yet, all she has learned of his character has been through mutual friends, who were fortunate enough to be granted an audience with His Pompousness.

Mrs. Hamilton was kinder in her assessment of his person; the general opinion of his character was so favourable that it had impressed upon her the belief that all had been some mysterious misunderstanding that he sought to rectify as soon as possible. As such, she spoke very highly of him with unrelenting speeches about his intentions to visit them for an introduction.

Perhaps if it had not been for these many tedious remarks on the subject, Audrey would have forgiven his folly and reserved her judgement until in company with him. But, as it was, the many accounts of his generous nature and good breeding only made his ill treatment of them more strongly-felt. A gentleman so easily swayed from his responsibilities could not in essence be a good man.




>Living History: Reenacting Jane Austen

2 Jan

>


We are all familiar with the books of Jane Austen, spend rainy Sunday afternoons swooning over Mr. Darcy and wish we could step into Elizabeth’s lucky footsteps. Now, you might not get to meet Mr. Darcy, but reenactment allows you to travel through time and enter a different life. Events are held all across the world where people indulge in this strange hobby. So, what’s the appeal? As an experienced regency re-enactor I will share some of my experiences and photographs with you.

                                                           at my first ball with my aunt

I first heard about the society through my aunt, who co-founded it after experiencing a lack of civilian re-enactment groups. Many people were interested in the period itself rather than the military element. From the desire to demonstrate middle-class regency life, the society was born and quickly, my whole family joined. Made up of period piece enthusiasts, it was no difficult task to convince them. I was only twelve years old when I attended my first event – a ball in a real castle!
I wasn’t even officially a member at that point but it opened my eyes to a new, exciting world where I not only inhabited a regency heroine and got to dance with dashing rogues (who were perhaps a cook or accountant in real life), but it also deepened my love for history. Being involved in living history requires some effort on your part and whoever would like to take up this marvellous hobby, should take the following issues into consideration:

                                                                           a peek at our wardrobe

  • ·         You are in charge of your own costumes. Although members might let you borrow a gown or two when you’re just getting started, there are patterns available from the period so get your sewing kit out! I can tell you in advance that recreating a historical costume takes a lot of work, patience and fitting. You wouldn’t be the first one to cut off the wrong part or sew something on backwards. Through experience, you will become more proficient in creating your own historically accurate outfits. Just do some research on fabric and colour. I’ve seen one too many ladies in dresses that reminded me of Barbie goes to Prom.

                                                           attending a Regency wedding in church

  • ·          Events can take place internationally so depending on your location and commitment, there will be some travel expenses. You will need to bring your costume and accessories, food, etc. You’ll need a car to get all your stuff safely (and in good condition!) to the event.

sipping tea on our country estate; I’m in white
  • ·         Read, research, refine. If you’re going to portray someone from another period, you will need to know how they talked, sat, acted and so on. Familiarise yourself with the etiquette and the history of the period so you know what was going on in the world. There’s another excuse to re-watch Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion.
dance and dinner at a ball; I’m wearing the red dress
  • ·        Dancing lessons. If you want to actually dance at a ball, you will have to take regency dancing lessons. It’s my favourite part of the experience. Mastering the dances takes a lot of time and energy. During every dance rehearsal we had several moments were we said: “Wrong way, Mr. Collins!” I know of several regency dancing troupes in the U.K. so that is something worth checking out. And just think, next time you’ll watch a period drama on the BBC, you’ll be able to pinpoint what dance they’re using and trace their footsteps to refresh your memory. 

                                                          fishing with my sister and uncle


If you have the time and money to invest in this hobby, I highly recommend it. Through my society, I attended balls, picnics, hunting parties, historical weddings and battles. We cultivated idleness and sipped tea for an audience while the men engaged themselves in sport (shooting, for instance). The ladies drew, read books, played old-fashioned games and wrote letters. I’ve also tried fishing at one of the events but there were no fish to be caught. I suppose it wasn’t the season.

                                                              f.l.t.r: my aunt, myself, my sister, my uncle


I’ve been photographed by a dozen people at once (which made me feel like a film star), called Anne Frank (wrong century!) and even once a servant (wrong class!). My favourite events had an international flavour. It enables you to meet like-minded people from all across the world. All those brooding Italians and Spanish soldiers. I even met my first boyfriend through this hobby. Alas, as it turned out he wasn’t my Mr. Darcy. But as I surveyed all those fine specimen of manliness in their military outfits, I perfectly understood Lydia. “Ooh, officers! A man is nothing without regimentals!”

This hobby also has a bit of a theatrical aspect. We sometimes staged scenes, including public arguments between different groups/classes of re-enactors. To make matters easier, we decided on a character to play for the duration of our membership. Because my mother, sister, both aunts and uncle were all members we created a regency family so we could still be related in our new fantasy world. Under this regency name, I wrote diary entries. It gave me my first taste of historical fiction and I enjoyed it immensely. Our society also had a magazine with useful tips and information, interviews, recipes, etc.

                                                                      my family in the beginning of our adventure

Links about living history:

Regency dancing groups:


If you have any questions, please let me know in the comment box and I will get back to you. 

>Regency Scene – A Bachelor Visits

30 Dec

>

Harley Manor was all aflutter that morning – the maids whispered of intrigue and bachelors. As usual, they were right. There was quite an uproar in the Hamilton residence – the eligible Mr. Sharpe had unexpectedly come to call and Audrey sat in the drawing room immaculately groomed and with all the awkwardness in conversation her pestering relations invariably inflicted through their incessant encouragements.

Although Miss Hamilton was of good family, education and sense, her mother had never regarded her notions concerning her marital state as of any consequence. Her disinclination to marry had been discarded as a folly of youth but as the years passed and she reached the age of two and twenty, she gained a reputation as a bit of a spinster.

But Audrey simply enjoyed the peace and quiet. She was a spinster without the characteristic lack of charm and means. Quite the contrary, when in her element and left to her own devices, Audrey could be described as lively, pleasant and sarcastic, though agreeably so. But with her mother looming over her petite figure, her personality shrinked in response and she grew taciturn, reserved – closed.

Mr. Sharpe, fashionably dressed and in possession of a fine pair of sideburns and brooding good looks, was received cordially, even graciously by the lady of the house. But as for the heiress of the family, she cast him simply indifferent looks and longingly glanced outside, filling his imagination with visions of Miss Hamilton engaged in all sorts of active employment such as horseback riding and archery. He sensed that her mother’s presence affected her disposition and became only curious to learn more about his unwilling hostess.

“You live very comfortably. I daresay you spend your time tolerable well here,” he said in an attempt to gain access to the inner workings of her mind. When the daughter gently sighed at the poor excuse of conversation, the mother took over.

“Oh, yes! It is very good of you to call and you are most welcome here. I shall certainly add you to the guest list of our little ball,” Mrs. Hamilton remarked nonchalantly to steer the conversation toward a more intimate setting for their acquaintance.

“A ball? How delightful. And when will it take place? I have heard little about it,” James Sharpe observed, having in truth heard nothing at all. Audrey roused herself from her thoughts to amuse herself by acting the part of the huntress.

“It is a great secret and you are the first to hear of it. You will come, won’t you?” she batted her eyelashes and moved her fan to and fro to assume a more delicate manner befitting her new part. Josephine nearly squeaked with delight but covered up her pleasure by smiling generously at her tapestries.James shared her love for the theatre and quickly recognised the game she had entered and promptly followed suit.

“Napoleon himself couldn’t stop me.”

Audrey could barely contain her coquettish expression and smiled.
“Well, then I suppose you are the first confirmed guest. How marvelous. We must instantly look to the seating arrangements to accommodate Mr. Sharpe,” she informed her daughter.

“You may seat him by me. There is nothing so stimulating as dinner table conversation. We shall bond over such subject matters as who wears the best pair of breeches and who tripped over his feet on the dance floor,” she airily suggested, having only in mind her intention to avoid Mr. Beckham. Horrid man. Josephine, quite oblivious to her ill-founded dislike, deduced from the remark that her daughter had taken a fancy to a man at last. And an eligible bachelor, even! How splendid!

To Mr. Sharpe this merely meant he had now entered a more friendly sphere in Miss Hamilton’s acquaintance and as he had no mercenary interest in the lady, he sought only to widen his social circle in seeking out her company – which was said to be entertaining and prone to diverting remarks.
“I shall look forward to such a comparative study,” he assented, much to everyone’s satisfaction.