Follow the Yellow

Archive of ‘Sinclair’s Mysteries’ category

Behind the Scenes: Debutantes and the London Season

Debutantes

Illustration from The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth © Júlia Sardà

In the next installment of my ‘Behind the Scenes’ series I wanted to write in a little more detail about the London Season and the Edwardian debutante – both of which play an important part in The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth.

Each year from the mid-nineteenth century right up until the Second World War, the focal point of Britain’s high society calendar was the London ‘Season’. Every May, wealthy society folk would leave their country houses and travel to their London residences for a three-month whirl of balls, parties and events, that lasted until the end of July.

Highlights of the Season included: the opening of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, visits to the Royal Opera House, the Chelsea Flower Show, the Henley Regatta and Ascot – as well as all kinds of balls, parties and dinners, at which members of the aristocracy could meet, mingle and show off.

‘The Season’ was of particular importance for debutantes – young ladies who were making their first appearances in society. For the aristocatic girls of the Edwardian era, growing up happened almost overnight. The Edwardians had no concept of being a teenager or young adult – so until the age of seventeen or eighteen, girls were treated like children and kept to the nursery or schoolroom. Then, all at once, it would be time to pin up their long hair, lengthen their skirts and exchange the schoolroom for the ballroom, as they were plunged into their very first Season.

This sudden transition from childhood to adulthood must have been quite alarming. First of all, there was the etiquette to master. Edwardian society was governed by a strict code of conduct, and woe betide any debutante who put a toe out of line! Sometimes it would be a young lady’s governess who would be responsible for instructing her so that she was ready to navigate the complex social rituals of the London Season – or perhaps she might be sent to a Finishing School to learn dancing, deportment and the proper way to behave.

Etiquette guides were also popular, like Lady Gertrude Elizabeth Campbell’s Etiquette of Good Society, published in 1893, which contained chapters on ‘Letter-Writing’, ‘Private Theatricals’ and ‘Field Sports’ amongst many others. Tips and advice on important matters including fashion, manners and what a girl should expect from her first Season were also published in magazines such as The Lady. (For  Jewelled Moth, I had a lot of fun inventing my own etiquette guide inspired by some of these real-life writings. Snippets from my fictional Lady Diana DeVere’s Etiquette for Debutantes: a Guide to the Manners, Mores and Morals of Good Society appear throughout the book though Sophie and Lil don’t often follow them! )

During the Season, debutantes would be accompanied by a chaperone at all times – usually someone like their mother, an aunt or an older sister, who would watch them with an eagle eye to make sure they were behaving properly. They were expected to dress beautifully and appropriately, to display perfect manners, and to be able to dance – but not to do a great deal else!

A very important occasion in a girl’s first season was being presented at Court. For this special (and nerve-wracking) ritual, each debutante wore a head-dress of three curled white ostrich feathers, a white dress, and a pair of long white gloves. Accompanied by a sponsor – a lady who had already been presented  – she would attend the Court Presentation, and when her turn came, be formally ‘presented’ to the King and perform her curtsey.

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The Edwardian debutante in her court ensemble

Once this ceremony was out of the way, a debutante could embark on the whirl of balls, parties, dinners, afternoon teas and events that made up the Season – by the time the three months were up, many a debutante found herself completely exhausted by the frenzy of social activity!

During the Season, she would have the chance to dress in beautiful gowns, mingle with London’s high society, and most importantly, meet eligible young men – though of course, never without the supervision of her chaperone! For many young ladies, finding a suitable husband was the ultimate goal of the Season – years earlier, Lord Byron famously called the London Season ‘The Marriage Mart’, and so it still was during the Edwardian period.

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The Edwardian Ball

Balls were an especially important part of the London Season. They usually began later in the evening – guests might have already attended a dinner party or another event before arriving. They were often held in grand London houses, where guests would dance, eat a delicious supper, and perhaps stroll out onto a terrace to cool off between dances.

On arrival at the balls, young ladies would be given a dance programme: a small card listing all the evening’s dances, with a tiny pencil attached. They then had to wait patiently by the side of the dance-floor with their chaperones, hoping for a young man to approach and ask them to dance – ladies were never allowed to ask men! He would then write his name in the appropriate space on her dance-card. Many debutantes dreaded being left to sit on the sidelines, and their great hope would be to fill their dance-card up as much possible before the dancing actually began.


Illustration from The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth © Júlia Sardà

The most important of all the dances was the supper-dance, because after this, a young lady’s partner would take her through to have supper, meaning that they would have chance to spend more time together. But even this was not really an opportunity to talk privately with a potential suitor: even whilst chatting over supper, a debutante knew that her chaperone was always watching! The sharp eyes of Edwardian high society were always on the look-out for even the smallest signs of what it considered ‘improper behaviour’.

As well as more traditional balls, the Edwardians enjoyed themed dances such as the Royal Caledonian Ball, where men dressed in Highland attire and everyone danced Scottish reels. They also loved fancy-dress balls like the one that takes place in Jewelled Moth – though their costumes were perhaps a little different to those we might wear at a fancy-dress party today.

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An impressive fancy dress costume from the Duchess of Devonishire’s Fancy Dress Ball of 1897

For some girls, the highlight of their first Season would be their own ‘coming-out ball’ which was usually organised by their parents in their honour, as a celebration of their coming-of-age. In Jewelled Moth, debutante Miss Veronica Whiteley’s coming-out ball has an especially important part to play in the story.

Writing about Veronica and her fellow debutantes – and the ritzy, glitzy world of the London Season they inhabit – was great fun, but it also gave me chance to explore what I can only imagine must have been the turbulent ups-and-downs of a girl’s first appearances in society. Tightly-corseted (in more ways than one!), the debutantes had to contend with strict rules, high expectations, the pressure to look perfect, and a complete lack of any kind of freedom or independence. What was more, they were constantly pitted against each other in a competition for social triumph that makes Mean Girls look tame.

My debutante character, Veronica, is a bit of a Mean Girl herself – but who can blame her when she has been so suddenly plunged from the sheltered, comfortable world of childhood and home into the unfamiliar adult world of London society? In this story, she soon finds herself grappling with some dark and shocking secrets, and alarmingly sinister schemes – but with the help of Sophie, Lil and friends, her first Season becomes an opportunity for a coming-of-age of a very different kind.

If you’d like to find out more about debutantes and the London Season during the Edwardian era, I’d recommend The 1900s Lady by Kate Caffrey. It’s sadly out of print now but if you can find a copy second-hand or in a library it’s a fascinating and entertaining (if rather idiosyncratic and not altogether factual) portrait of the lives of upper class girls and women of the Edwardian period.

Debutantes and the London Season by Lucinda Gosling is a great little summary of the history of the debutantes and the Season – from their eighteenth century origins right up until the final Court presentations in 1958.

This post is based on some content first produced for the Jewelled Moth blog tour. You can read the original posts in full here:

The pictures in this post all come via my trusty Edwardiana Pinterest board (click the image for the source) where you can also find lots more pictures of Edwardian society.

Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries

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The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth Blog Tour

Illustration from The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Julia Sarda.

Illustration from The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Julia Sarda.

To celebrate the publication of The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, what better than a  blog tour? During publication week I popped over to one of five fantastic blogs each day, to share some insight into the book – the background to the story, and the real-life Edwardian history that helped inspire it.

Check out the blog tour here:

If you’d like to find out more about the background to The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth, you can also check out this piece for the Guardian, about why I chose to write about Edwardian China Town.

I also took part in this celebratory Happy Book Birthday blog post over at MG Strikes Back.

And finally, I wrote this classics-inspired piece for Ya Yeah Yeah about how the classic detective story The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins helped to inspire The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth.

Thanks so much to all the lovely bloggers who took part for hosting me – and for helping  to celebrate The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth!

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Happy launch day for The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth!

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The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth was published this week – and to celebrate, we had the loveliest launch party at Daunt Books Cheapside!

There were cakes and hats aplenty, and lots of friends in attendance to help welcome Jewelled Moth into the world!

Here are a just few of my many favourite pictures from the evening:

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Celebrating in stripes with agent and top pal Louise Lamont.

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Cakes (obviously)

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Trying out the millinery selection with lovelies Claire Shanahan, Nina Douglas and Katie Webber.

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With my mum and dad!

All the wonderful people at the #jewelledmoth launch for @followtheyellow this evening. And awesome millinery. What more could you need?! ❤️🎉🍾 #bookstagram #instabook

A photo posted by nina ❄️ (@ninacd_) on

 

The millinery department is now open!! @followtheyellow @egmontpublishinguk

A photo posted by @magseckel on

Hats. 😀 @emilyhopeh04

A photo posted by @magseckel on

Huge thanks to everyone who came to help celebrate The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth!

Some awards news!

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I’m so thrilled that The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow has been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2016!

It’s on the shortlist for the Younger Fiction category of the prize, along with five other fantastic books:

  • Bird by Crystal Chan (Tamarind)
  • Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty (HarperCollins)
  • Witch Wars by Sibéal Pounder (Bloomsbury)
  • The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Puffin)
  • My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons (Nosy Crow)

There are also lots of brilliant books shortlisted for the Illustrated Book and Older Fiction category of this year’s Prize – including lots of my favourites!

It’s particularly special to me that Clockwork Sparrow has been shortlisted for this prize, as the shortlist is chosen by booksellers in Waterstones stores. I’ve written here before about how much I love Waterstones: it’s so important that we have a top quality high street bookseller, with knowledgeable booksellers and a wide range of books.

I was inspired by Mel Salisbury who wrote this lovely blog post about being shortlisted for the Older Fiction category, to write a bit about my own relationship with Waterstones. We didn’t actually have a Waterstones in Chorley, the small market town closest to where I grew up (though these days you can find a great indie bookshop there – the lovely Ebb & Flo). But a trip to the big Waterstones in nearby Preston was about the most exciting thing I could imagine, and I can remember spending HOURS in the children’s section, luxuriating in the deliciously difficult task of choosing which books to buy with my Christmas or birthday money.

When I was 11, my mum and I moved a little further north to Lancaster, and I was thrilled to realise that we now lived just 10 minutes walk from a big Waterstones. I could go there as often as I wanted – and I did, feeling extremely grown-up and sophisticated. I knew that bookshop inside out, and spent a lot of time choosing a new Baby-Sitter’s Club title, or eyeing up the Judy Blumes. Lots of my favourite books came from that shop – I especially remember buying The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, A Little Love Song and Cuckoo Song by Michelle Magorian, and The Quantocks Quartet by Ruth Elwin Harris – which was one of the series that first made me interested in the Edwardian period.

It was apt that a few years later, I ended up doing work experience in that very same Waterstones, where the lovely booksellers were so welcoming and embraced my enthusiasm for all things bookish! A year or so after that, when a Saturday job became available, I was lucky enough to get it. I loved being a Waterstones bookseller, and had such a great time there that I even carrying on working occasionally during my holidays after I went away to university.

These days, Waterstones bookshops are some of my favourite places in London – from the glorious flagship store, Waterstones Piccadilly, to the gorgeous new Waterstones Tottenham Court Road where I recently went to hear Juno Dawson talk about her latest book Mind Your Head.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize ceremony for the last few years in the company of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate, who has the job of presenting the prize to the overall winner. I’ve always loved having the chance to meet the authors and illustrators on the shortlist – it’s a dream come true to realise that this year, one of those authors will be me!

In other very exciting prize news, I’ve also recently found out that The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow has been longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016. This is another really lovely prize, and one of the things that makes it special is that it’s not just a prize for a book’s author, but for its editor too – so I share my longlisting with my two wonderful editors, Ali Dougal and Hannah Sandford.

The prize is named for author Henrietta Brandford and her editor Wendy Boase: I love that it reflects the fact that a book is a real team effort, and recognises all the hard work of the editors as well as the author in creating the finished work.

Check out the 2016 Brandford Boase longlist here.

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth is coming soon!

Hello again! It’s been a little quiet here over the last few weeks because of a few pesky technical issues. But I’m back today with some very exciting news – the very first advance copies of The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth have been winging their way out into the world to journalists, book bloggers and booksellers.

Here’s a quick peep – isn’t it a beauty?

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As with The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, the glorious cover and interior illustrations are the work of the amazing illustrator Júlia Sardà (check out more of her beautiful children’s book illustrations here!) The design is by Benjamin Hughes at Egmont, who once again has done an incredible job of making a spectacular package. Just look at that lovely silver foil!

The book went out accompanied with a press release in the style of an invitation to a fancy-dress ball, plus a mysterious costume mask, which is especially appropriate for this new story. Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

The honour of your company is requested at Lord Beaucastle’s fancy dress ball

Wonder at the puzzling disappearance of the JEWELLED MOTH! MARVEL as our heroines, SOPHIE AND LIL, don cunning disguises, mingle in high society and munch many cucumber sandwiches to solve this curious case! APPLAUD THEIR BRAVERY as they follow a trail of TERRIBLE SECRETS that leads straight to London’s most dangerous CRIMINAL MASTERMIND, and could put their own lives at risk…

It will be the most thrilling event of the season!

The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth is published on 25 February – less than a month away (eek!)

You can pre-order now on Waterstones The Hive or Amazon