Tag Archives: history

Thanks to Music

Thanks to MusicThis week I’m going to be unashamedly personal, thanks to music. Indeed, I want to say thank you – to friends and well-wishers, fellow writers, musicians of all kinds and the universe.

To put you in the picture – several weeks ago I booked tickets for a concert to take place this past week at the Wigmore Hall.

inner reader, mystery womanIt appealed to me for all sorts of reasons. There was history, discovery (some of the programme was so obscure I thought I’d probably never hear it live again), drama, even youth studies. There was a band I love.

And then there was a sort of deep satisfaction in participating in a major enterprise that would last as long as Mozart’s life.


romantic novelist busy editingYou knew there would be a but, didn’t you? Shortly after the tickets arrived, I woke up one morning with a blocked ear. Well, sometimes it was just the one. Sometimes both.

If I took a deep breath and blew my nose hard, my ears popped. But then I went back to feeling as if my aural cavities had been vacuum-packed for travel and I couldn’t hear the front door bell. Couldn’t hear myself think.

Improving – but slowly

Fire Oranges Happy Christmas 2017

Christmas was lovely. I almost forgot I was hard of hearing.

As a result I turned round and walked into a number of innocent shoppers whom I hadn’t heard come up behind me. Before Christmas they were all either too jollied up or too exhausted to snap. Forgiving anyway. After Christmas, not so much.

Writing was a different matter. I kept playing the radio and turning the volume down, bar by bar, to see whether I was hearing any better. The doctor had shown me the faces I should pull while brushing my teeth. Nope. Still pretty much uni-eared.

So then I had to keep jumping up to check phone, kettle, cat flap, even the front door, didn’t I? Concentration? Forget it.

And it was January. Dark. Cold. The latest sunrise of the year. Did I really want to go out, even for music?

Friends, Well-Wishers and Writers, Thank You

Every single one of you urged me to go. And then a friend who was in actual recovery from a really nasty infection volunteered to accompany me. A combination of competitive endurance and simple shame got me to the Wigmore Hall.

Not with high expectations, to be honest. After all, how much was I going to be able to hear? It might turn out to be the music of the spheres – a long, long way away.

Musicians, Thank you

Thanks to Music, 18th century, harpsichord, singerThe title was 1770 – a retrospectiveIt was part of conductor Ian Page’s musical journey through time, in this case Mozart’s fourteenth year. (His birthday was 27th January.)

He spent most of it in Italy, but the music in this concert also comes from other great musical centres of Europe – Vienna, London, Naples, and Esterháza – as well as the two arias from Milan which saw Mozart’s first great operatic success, Mitridate, re di Ponto.

Thanks to Music

Gluck, composer. Thanks to Music.And there were revelations. Haydn, setting Goldoni texts for the first time, delivered his wonderful humane sympathy and humour – and a peach of a naughty character for soprano, Samantha Clarke, a born actress.

Gluck (left) ignoring war and telling the story of conflicted love from the point of view of the lovers, Paris and Helen, was spellbinding.

Almacks, King Street. J C Bach concerts Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony in G Minor was dramatic and unexpectedly moving. Probably it was played in concerts at Almack’s Assembly Rooms in King Street.

Rather strong meat for a Georgette Heyer heroine, I suspect. Or a hero either, for that matter. Even the most fashionable of them don’t seem to be musical. Or am I wrong?

Farinelli, castrato. Thanks to MusicBut the duets were the absolute jewel of this evening. By Haydn, Gluck, JC Bach, Jamelli (of whom I’d never heard, though he was both talented and prolific) and Mozart himself! All  gloriously sung by Samantha Clarke and mezzo Ida Ränzlöv, half Cherubino, half Farinelli (left)!

Both acted beautifully too, restrained but so expressive you didn’t have to follow the translation to know what was going on.

And Additional Thanks to the Music…

There were tears more than once, I admit. This music does after all, coincide with the first stirrings of the romantic sensibility. And Mozart sure knew how to wring the heart with a horn solo, even at 14. Blast him.

And whether it was the cold, or the exercise, or having to blow my nose quietly, or simply the gathering of tears in the first place – my ear is no longer blocked. I heard perfectly throughout the concert. Not so much as a hiccup since.

Writing, here I come.

Sophie Weston AuthorSophie

Sarah Mallory: Living and writing in the Scottish Highlands.

Those who know me from Social media will probably realise that I have moved. A big move. Massive. After 30 years in one house I have moved to the Scottish Highlands.   To Wester Ross. It has been described as Britain’s last great wilderness, and with good reason. Moving here is not just another country, it is another life and a very different one. The language is almost the same. Almost, but not quite. One has to think more about it. No one asks where you live, it is where are you staying, as if you are just passing through.

Hospitality is generous, tea, cake or biscuits are often offered as a matter of course. Which means I need to brush up on my baking skills.

Okay, I doubt I will EVER bake anything this good!

The Scottish Highlands from a writer’s point of view

I travel through this land with my writer’s hat on. The landscape feels old. Continue reading

Characters In the Shadows

Characters in Shadow - people at airport, in silhouette

As a story-teller, my process begins with a character. It is then my job to bring them out into the light of day.

Sometimes I know him or her well.

Sometimes I’ve just eavesdropped on a conversation or a thought. The whole person is still deep in shadows, waiting to reveal who he really is.Characters in the Shadows + napoleon

Stage Two is when I start to think about the What Ifs.

Sometimes this will be background and setting stuff –  like what if my hero stumbles across Napoleon? Or the Hadron collider? Or an international conspiracy?

But usually it’s more personal. Characters in novels are awkward sods.

What if my character insists on making a different choice from what I expect? Continue reading

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night party by PhizI am posting this on Twelfth Night. Well, at least, what my family have always called Twelfth Night. That’s the 6th January. It is a family birthday in our house, so it kind of sticks in the memory.

Only — maybe Twelfth Night is 5th January. The Anglican Church think that’s the right date.

SO WHEN is Twelfth Night?

Continue reading

Altering History : is it OK in Historical Fiction?

cranium silhouetted against question markAltering History. In other words, changing what actually happened into something that didn’t happen; or didn’t happen in quite that way; or happened at a different time…
Is it OK for an author of historical fiction to do that?

Always? Sometimes? Never?

Does it depend on what the alteration is? Some think it’s OK to alter small things, relating to minor characters, but not decisive things relating to really important characters.

Some might say an author can do whatever he or she likes, provided the reader knows what the author has done. In other words, the author has to come clean.
Others don’t care, as long as the end result is a good read.

Altering History : a Big Deal for Queens

Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820: a spencer for a skimpy gown?

In BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear spencers, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing

What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?

replica Regency gowns with spencers

Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)

As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.

From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.

But why was it called a spencer? Continue reading

Historical Costume 1800-1820 : the simple Regency gown?

1807 white muslin wedding dress © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

A Regency gown might not be so simple?

1807 wedding dress asymmetric embroidery on front

A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.

That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Caraco. But what IS a caraco?

What is a Caraco?

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Striped silk sack-backed caraco, 1760-1780

Caraco isn’t a word that many of us are familiar with. It’s not in many dictionaries, either. It is in Wikipedia, though, along with this illustration of a lovely caraco jacket, dating from 1760 but altered in the 1780s. The original is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

So… what is a caraco?

It’s a woman’s jacket, usually waisted and thigh length, with a front opening. It could be worn as the bodice of a gown and was termed a “caraco dress” when it was complete with a skirt. Some simple versions had high waists even as early as the 1780s.

According to Wikipedia, the original French caraco was often worn with a stomacher to fill the front opening, as with the silk one in the picture above. The English version was designed to meet in front and didn’t need a stomacher. Which is a pity, as stomachers can be truly beautiful, like these from earlier periods… Continue reading

Historical Costume 1780s : Polonaise Gown

Polonaise not Panniers!

1780 polonaise replica

1780 polonaise replica

1787 polonaise original

1787 polonaise original

This blog looks at the lovely Georgian polonaise gown, as a follow-up to my earlier blogs about the hard work of the seamstress and the lady’s maid. We marvel at these gowns in museums — and most of us know that every stitch was hand-sewn — but do we stop to think about the detail of the process?

Shown left is a modern replica of a 1780 polonaise gown, made in plain white fabric to show off the detail of construction. Shown right is an original gown dating from the late 1780s and with the back only partly lifted.

Normally, the back of the polonaise would be lifted in two or more places to show the petticoat beneath, as shown below. Continue reading

Peru Poser: Humour or Porn?

I said that Joanna’s blog last week reminded me of an encounter of my own with a Secret Room in a Museum and some unusual cultural artefacts – in fact it turned out to be a Peru Poser: Humour or Porn?

Peru Aunt Lucy“Peru?” I hear you cry. “Home of Machu Picchu, the Inca Empire and Paddington Bear’s Aunt Lucy? That Peru?”

Yes. That Peru.

“Well strike me pink with gold knobs on. What on earth was the woman doing there?”

Um – would you believe work? Also expanding my experience of other cultures and seeing the world. Continue reading