I’m so excited to be able to share the news that I’ve written a book for Barrington Stoke, which will be illustrated by Kate Pankhurst!
Rose’s Dress of Dreams is based on the real-life story of Rose Bertin – a remarkable pioneer of fashion at the court of Marie Antoinette. Here’s how the Barrington Stoke team described the book:
Young Rose dreams of sewing stunning dresses for the women of Paris. But when a chance encounter with royalty changes her life, Rose must draw on all her skills to create the most breathtaking dress of them all. Inspired by the life of Rose Bertin, the woman credited with inventing haute-couture, this is a story to inspire bold girls and boys everywhere.
As soon as I discovered Rose’s story, I was captivated by the idea of this determined young girl, forging a new path for herself – and going on to change the course of fashion history. I had a lot of fun writing about her and researching the fabulous fashions of 18th century France.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be part of Barrington Stoke’s Little Gems list, which they describe as ‘chapter books designed for little readers who still have their ‘L-plates’ on. Each captivating story from a well-known author is fully illustrated to help picture book fans make the jump into reading fiction. There’s fun and games hidden in the jacket flaps, and it is all wrapped up in a package that’s perfect for little hands.’
I’ve long been an admirer of Barrington Stoke – an award-winning publisher of super readable books accessible to young people with dyslexia or reading reluctance – so I’m really excited about this project. I’m also thrilled to be working with Kate Pankhurst, creator of the Mariella Mystery Investigates series and the truly fantastic Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World. I can’t wait to see how she’s going to bring the story – and Rose’s stunning Paris fashions – to life with her artwork.
Rose’s Dress of Dreams will be published in April 2018 – preorder links to follow shortly. More information about the book can be found here.
Illustration by Karl James Mountford, from The Midnight Peacock
One of the first things most of us think of when we think of the Edwardians is the grand country house. It appears everywhere from Downton Abbey to The Go-Between, not to mention in dozens of mysteries, romances and ghost stories. The period from 1861 – 1914 is generally considered to have been the ‘golden age’ of the English country house – and the country house party in particular was a mainstay of upper-class Edwardian social life.
Entertaining was a mark of status for well-off Edwardians. For the Edwardian gentry, their country estate was a place to display their wealth, power and refined taste via their art collections and elegant furniture, their sumptuous grounds, their army of servants, and the lavish food and drink at their table. Hosting a country house party would allow them to showcase all this to their peers.
Sometimes lasting weeks at a time, but more often from Saturday until Monday (literally referred to as ‘Saturday-to-Monday’ – as we’ve learned from the Countess of Grantham, the word ‘weekend’ was considered rather vulgar) country house parties most often took place during August and September.
Up to 20 or 30 people would typically be invited, each of whom might bring their own servants with them (perhaps a maid or a valet, and possibly a chauffeur) as well as a large quantity of luggage. An Edwardian lady would not want to wear the same outfit twice during her stay, and with different clothes typically expected at breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner, a three-day visit could require as many as fifteen different ensembles!
Gentlemen of the party would spend their days shooting, while the ladies wrote letters, read, strolled in the gardens or perhaps took part in outdoor activities like riding, croquet or lawn tennis.
Food was of course a most important aspect of any Edwardian house party! The day would begin with a vast breakfast spread, featuring fruit, eggs, toast, muffins, rolls, bacon, ham, kidneys, pies, haddock, kedgeree, tea, coffee, cocoa and more – though the ladies of the party might well take their breakfast in bed. As well as a generous luncheon, there would be afternoon tea in the drawing room, and in the evening the party would gather for a sumptuous dinner.
After dinner the ladies would typically retire to the drawing room, leaving the gentlemen to enjoy their port and cigars before rejoining the ladies for an evening of music, dancing or card games like bridge or baccarat (the latter was actually illegal at the time, but like Leo’s brother Vincent in The Midnight Peacock, many people in Edwardian high society enjoyed scandalous gambling!)
As well as being an opportunity for socialising, country house parties could offer a chance for matches to be made. Young ladies who had not found a husband during the Season might have the opportunity to meet and get to know a suitable young man, often of their parents’ choosing. (That’s exactly what Veronica Whitley’s parents have in mind in The Midnight Peacock – but things don’t quite go to plan…)
In the world of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, we’ve already had a peep inside a grand Edwardian country house in The Painted Dragon – Leo’s family home, Winter Hall. In the final book, The Midnight Peacock, I wanted to take us back to Winter Hall, and allow Sophie and Lil to experience the world of a high society Edwardian house party, with all its complex rules and traditions. Here, it’s a Christmas house party, complete with ice-skating, snowy walks, and a Christmas party for the children of the estate. But amongst all the festivities, there’s a mystery afoot – and Sophie and Lil soon discover that Winter Hall is hiding a sinister and spooky secret…
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries
There’s been a LOT happening over the last few weeks. No sooner did The Midnight Peacock (the fourth and final book in the Sinclair’s Mysteries series) hit bookshop shelves, than Winter Magic was out in a gorgeous new paperback edition, new suffragette-inspired anthology Make More Noise was announced … and then it was time to head to Aarhus, Denmark, for the first ever Hay Festival Aarhus.
To celebrate the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, Hay Festival organised an International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, held at the city’s DOKK1 Library. I was so delighted to be there as one of the Aarhus 39 – a selection of the best children’s and YA writers from all over Europe, aged 40 and under – see photo above. We’d been asked to contribute original stories to two special anthologies edited by Daniel Hahn, and were also invited to take part in the festival itself alongside amazing authors and illustrators like Chris Riddell, Cressida Cowell, Oliver Jeffers and Eoin Colfer.
The Quest anthology in its Danish edition
The amazing DOKK1 Library, Aarhus
Inside the library, transformed for the Hay Aarhus Festival
Aarhus is a wonderful city, and I had a fantastic few days exploring, getting to know the rest of the Aarhus 39, and admiring the amazing DOKK1 Library. Highlights included taking part in a panel event alongside fellow Aarhus 39 authors Maria Turtschaninoff and Ævar Þór Benediktsson, and seeing my story illustrated live by Søren Jessen. Here’s a little video of me talking at the festival:
It was a real privilege to be part of such an incredible celebration of writing for children and young people – here’s a blog post I wrote for the Hay Festival international writers blog about exactly why it was so special. Thanks so much to all at Hay Festival for a brilliant time!
Find out more about Quest: Stories of Journeys From Around Europe from the Aarhus 39
Illustration of my story ‘Between the Trees’ by Søren Jessen
Beautiful views from outside the library – which even has its own boat!
With my lovely friend and fellow Aarhus 39 author Katherine Rundell
Thank you Hay Festival and Aarhus 2017 for a wonderful time!
Winter Magic – the anthology of frosty magical tales curated by Abi Elphinstone – is out in paperback today, with a gorgeous new cover by illustrator Melissa Castrillon
It’s lovely to see the book out in paperback just in time for enjoying on wintery afternoons – and of course, to go in lots of Christmas stockings!
The new cover is beautiful and it’s fun spotting all the details from the various stories in Melissa’s gorgeous illustration – including the little Nutcracker from my story Casse-Noisette set in 1890s St Petersburg told from the point of view of a young dancer in the very first production of ‘The Nutcracker’.
Find out more about Winter Magic
Buy your copy of the new paperback edition from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
Edwardian maids, 1907
In the Sinclair’s Mysteries I’ve enjoyed exploring what life was like in the Edwardian era for children and teenagers from different backgrounds. Unless they were from a wealthy family, most children in the 1900s would leave school when they were 13 or 14 years old, and would be expected to go out and work for a living. Many would take on apprenticeships; they might find work in a shop, like Sophie in The Clockwork Sparrow; or they might become a clerk, as Billy does in The Jewelled Moth. The less fortunate might end up working long hours in a factory, like the children Billy and Joe meet in The Midnight Peacock; or some, like Joe in The Clockwork Sparrow, might struggle to find work at all.
But one of the most common routes into employment at the time was to ‘go into service’ – in other words, to become a domestic servant. In 1911, 800,000 families in Britain employed their own domestic staff. For many of these, this would be a single servant (sometimes called ‘a maid of all work’) – often a girl in her early teens who dealt with all the domestic work single-handed. In the days before the labour-saving devices we take for granted today (washing machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers… the list is endless) this often meant an incredible amount of work.
For very wealthy families living in grand houses, however, it was usual to employ a large staff, all of whom would live on the premises in the ‘servants’ quarters’. This could include kitchenmaids, a cook, housemaids, footmen, nursemaids to look after the children, lady’s maids, valets, chauffeurs, and of course the all-important butler and housekeeper – the most senior and important members of staff, who were responsible for the other servants. In very large houses the staff might also include more obscure positions such as: the ‘odd man’, who was responsible for tasks like carrying luggage; the ‘still room maids’ who worked in the still room making jam, preserves and soap or brewing beer; the ‘lamp-and-candle boy’ whose specific responsibility was filling lamps and tending to candles (at Longleat in 1915, where there was no electric light, a lamp boy had to collect, clean, trim and fill 400 lamps a day) or even the ‘gong man’ whose main duty was ringing the gong three times a day to signal mealtimes!
A grand country house like Winter Hall could have a huge number of servants: at Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire, the Duke of Portland maintained an entourage of 90 indoor servants. Even when there were a smaller number of staff, guests arriving for a country house party might well bring their own servants with them, such as a lady’s maid, valet or chauffeur. The Duke of Devonshire found 200 servants the bare minimum to look after a house party of 50.
©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel
It sounds extraordinary now, but the Edwardian upper classes were so used to being looked after by their servants that they were sometimes incapable of doing quite simple tasks for themselves. They might ring the bell for a footman to do something as straightforward as poking a fire. Famously Lord Curzon was so baffled by the challenge of opening a window in the bedroom of the country house in which he was staying (no servants being available late at night) that he smashed the glass!
Traditionally servants at a big house would start young, at about 13 years old. Life in a country house could be tough: these young servants worked long hours doing hard physical work, and (like Sarah the scullery maid in in The Midnight Peacock) they would often feel homesick at first, living away from family and friends. But being in service was considered a good, secure job, offering the opportunity to climb the ladder. Starting out as a footman or housemaid, a young servant might aspire to one day achieve a prestigious position as a butler or housekeeper, where they would be afforded special privileges such as having their own private sitting-rooms, and might even be waited on themselves by the more junior servants.
In The Midnight Peacock we meet Tilly, a young under-housemaid at grand country house Winter Hall, (which readers of The Painted Dragon may remember is Leo Fitzgerald’s family home). Tilly has grown up ‘below stairs’ at Winter Hall, and the servants’ quarters are her home. Cook, who has brought her up, hopes that she will one day rise to the important position of lady’s maid – but Tilly herself has very different dreams. In this way, Tilly anticipates the changes that were already on the horizon at the end of the Edwardian era. The First World War would bring about disruption to traditions, and the old ‘upstairs, downstairs’ world would soon be gone for good…
If you’re interested in reading more about the life of servants during the Edwardian era and beyond, I’d heartily recommend Lucy Lethbridge’s fascinating book Servants: A Downstairs View of 20th Century Britain. There are also lots of children’s books featuring servants in the 19th and early 20th centuries: try The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson, Thursday’s Child by Noel Streatfeild, Nancy Parker’s Diary of Detection by Julia Lee, Frost Hollow Hall by Emma Carroll and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett to name just a few.
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 the Edwardian era.
Check out my other ‘Behind the Scenes’ posts exploring the historical background of the Sinclair’s Mysteries