Saturday 28 August 2021

EVENTS, DEAR BOY, EVENTS..... by Adèle Geras

 There really is no excuse, so I am going to come clean.  It's been so long since I posted on this blog that I had forgotten completely that it was my turn to write a piece for yesterday and I am grateful to the eagle-eyed Sue Purkiss for reminding me ....I have dropped everything and run to my laptop, desperately trying to think of something interesting to put into this intimidating expanse of white. I apologise for this lapse. Lord knows, there's been enough going on in the world over the last few weeks to make everyone forget most things, but I am not going to write about Current Events. 

Rather, I'm going to put up a few photos of what I've been doing over the last six months: the time that's elapsed since my last post. 

Apart from Covid news, which everyone knows and which I'm also not going to write about, this last six months has been concerned with launching a book in the middle of a pandemic, and trying hard to get back to work again on the novel that comes next. 

So on March 4th, 2021 Dangerous Women, by Hope Adams (my pseudonym) was published. 

I had a wonderful bouquet of flowers from my publishers, Michael Joseph, and a very lovely Zoom Launch, complete with  tins of cocktails sent in advance. I had signed lots of tip -in sheets and stickers to go in the fronts of books, but when the shops opened on April 12th, no copies of  Dangerous Women were visible in Cambridge. Since then, I've seen one copy in Heffer's, (who had stocked five copies) but that's the only one I've seen in the wild. It's true that I haven't been around much visiting other shops but I hear it's  selling reasonably well, so I'm hoping that someone somewhere has seen it. All the reviews I know of seem to have liked it so I'm happy. And the paperback is due early next year, I think, with a different striking cover. I adored the hardback cover, too but the paperback is lovely in its own way too!

My mind is now turning to my second novel as Hope Adams. It's based on the work of the Scottish artist, Phoebe Anna Traquair. 

At first, I thought I would have the artist herself as a character in my novel, much in the same way that I put the read Kezia Hayter and Captain Charles Ferguson into  Dangerous Women, but I soon realised that because of the demands of my plot,  I needed to create a fictional character based on the artist, while using her beautiful work for my purposes in as faithful a way as possible.  The book will be set in Edinburgh in 1899, so I hope will have elements of the Gothic about it. Here is one example of Traquair's work: 

This is the Mortuary Chapel in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh. Children figure large in my novel....I think. I have yet to write a single word though I've been planning for a very long time.

For the rest, I've had a very pleasant summer. In the Cotswolds, in a Spa where my daughters took me for a weekend, (last year's Christmas present!) along with my granddaughter....that was  real treat. I've looked after my granddog for a week, and kept on walking and reading and watching far too much television.  I've been up to London to  see Leopoldstradt by Tom Stoppard and that was lovely: a real pleasure to be in a theatre again. 

I hope very much that the next time I write on this blog I'll have a more considered post to regale you with! I will put the date in giant letters on every calendar....

Friday 20 August 2021

Something Old by Sheena Wilkinson

1. Christening Robe

It was ivory, with frills. Not quite exquisite lace – nylon had just come in. Daddy wore it in 1946; I wore it in 1968 and my sister in 1969. 

Bundled to the back of the hotpress to make space for brushed nylon nighties and flannelette candy-stripe sheets, it was not quite an heirloom, but too good for a doll’s frock. One day your children will wear it, Mummy said.

It lived on in my hotpress, with Egyptian cotton sheets and Ikea duvet covers. Not quite forgotten, but an occasional silky reminder that my life was single and childfree and that someday I would have to do something with it.

I moved house. I am getting married but I am quite old. If there are ever step-grandchildren, they will want their own christening robes. I hang it off the edge of the guest room bookcase, and if it looks a little odd, like a headless ghost baby, I am not quite ready to admit that.

2. Lace Petticoat

Gran gave it to me when I was eighteen. It is about seventy years old. The cotton is still white and crisp, the pleats and tucks and lace immaculate but for a little wear and tear. I wear it as a skirt. I pose around college feeling exquisite and romantic.

It too has languished in the hotpress, hiding among pillowcases. I wash, iron and starch it. I note the extra wear on the frothy lace from my catching the hem in my DM boots. And the little gingham ties I made to hang it up with. It is over a hundred years old. I hang it with my ordinary clothes in my new wardrobe. Maybe I will wear it sometime.

3. Gran’s Hair Ribbons

Or Aunt Annie’s. Or Sadie, their big sister who died at sixteen. They are ivory, but perhaps they were white when they were slipped into the family bible over a hundred years ago. I imagine I have seen them in the sepia photos of the three sisters in the 1910s, but they seem smaller and less exuberant than those.

Perhaps they were indeed Sadie’s, pressed carefully in the bible as a memento. There is nobody to tell me and they are a shock to find, so silky and delicate and patient. 

I launder them very carefully. I am going to sew them to the stole I have crocheted for my October wedding day. Something old.

Friday 13 August 2021

Making Music Visible Part 1 - Norman McLaren - by Joan Lennon

I'm proud to be a History Girl.  But I'm also a Historical Girl, in so far as many things I grew up with are now considered History.  One of those things was the National Film Board of Canada,* home to all sorts of quiet revolutions in animation and film-making.  And from 1941, it was home to Norman McLaren. 

My dad was a film buff, though that term may be Historical now as well, and he shared his enthusiasm with me.**  Not everything we watched together way back then has stood up to the test of time, but Norman McLaren has. In spades.

One aspect of McLaren's work was the technique he pioneered of creating sound scores by scratching and gouging the physical film strip.  We can look more into that in Part 2. But he also collaborated with many of the prominent musicians of his time, making wonderfully abstract short films that both illustrated the music and made it visible. 

He was drawn to music of widely different sorts and styles.  Sometimes he was inspired by folk songs like the French Canadian sequence song in 1958, Le Merle (The Blackbird). In this film he worked with fellow animator Evelyn Lambart and the Trio Lyrique of Montreal.

Or Boogie-Doodle (1940) where African-American jazz pianist Albert Ammons provided the boogie, and McLaren created the doodle:

Eldon Rathburn's jazz ensemble piece came together with McLaren's images hand-scratched and hand-painted directly onto the film strip to become Short and Suite (1959):

But perhaps the most mesmerizing of all was Spheres (1969) where McLaren and Rene Jodoin collaborated with the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould:

(There is yet another layer of richness that you can hear if your ears are keen. One of Glenn Gould's quirks was to hum an improvised other line of music while playing Bach fugues.  Drove some people crazy but as a kid smitten by and grappling with the gorgeousness of Bach, Gould was my hero.)

People speak about 'passion pieces' and for me, the passion of these short collaborative films comes through as vividly today as it did way back then, in History. But perhaps that's enough for now, and Part 2 of Making Music Visible will appear in due course.

*Still going strong, the National Film Board of Canada champions new works and also has a wonderful archive of films and documentaries.  Have a look here.

** Back in 2014 I did a HG post on Norman McLaren's 1957 film A Chairy Tale.  The music was by Ravi Shankar and Chantur Lal.

Joan Lennon Instagram

Friday 6 August 2021

ALL THAT GLITTERS … by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Anyone familiar with the Georgian period will either think of the seedy underbelly of eighteenth-century London, or (more typically) the glittering ballrooms of the Regency ton. Certainly, the rise of Netflix’s Bridgerton has definitely brought the era to the attention of a wider audience! So it’s inevitable, really, that we should be drawn to the glorious fashions of the Georgians, and their fashion included as a major feature, jewellery!

Very much like today, jewellery was a way of expressing oneself. There were so many different styles and colours available during the period – from the simple and elegant, to the more ostentatious creations favoured by the upper echelon of society. The style and amount of jewellery, too, was dependent on the time of day. A typical daytime style for a woman was a necklace and cameo brooch, and a ring. Garnet tended to be the stone of choice. At night, these might be switched for something with a bit more ‘oomph’ such as a more heavily set necklace and earring set, multiple bracelets, and rings worn on each finger, with diamonds being the main stone of choice due its rarity and value. For men, shoe buckles were very popular, and jewelled buttons added an extra zing to any outfit.

The Georgians wore jewellery to make a statement that clearly highlighted their social standing; genuine gemstones, pure diamonds and freshwater pearls were typically owned by those much higher up the social ladder, and parure sets (a collection made up of a necklace, bracelet, earrings, brooch and head piece) were only seen by those who had a very fat pocketbook. The lower down the ladder you went, the lesser the quality and quantity.


Over the long Georgian period (1714-1830) different materials were used to create jewellery, and many were made overseas in countries such as Italy, France and Germany – true diamonds shared shelf space with smaller stoned diamonds that had foiled backs, as well as a large array of ‘paste’ pieces (a type of glass) which looked the part but without the hefty price tag of diamonds and pure gems. Other glass, too – Vauxhall and Opaline – was massively popular and looked stunning when combined with the beauty of paste, in any colour. Gold and silver began to make way for gilt metal, iron, marcasite and cut steel, and pinchbeck (a metal that looked like gold) did not tarnish, which made it a popular style in its own right.



Natural materials such as coral, agate, turquoise, ivory, and amber were also appreciated by the Georgians, and prized for their beauty. Even wood was used in some pieces! Cameos were typically made from shells and could be styled in various different ways, with astonishing detail – these were usually made in Italy, and designers favoured scenes from Greek myth, something that appealed massively to the Georgians, whose later fashions and architecture drew heavily on Grecian styling.

Jewellery was also a way of expressing emotion. Receiving a diamond ring became the replacement of receiving a bunch of flowers in the Georgian era and was the ultimate love token, but if a lady was given a piece of jewellery in the shape of a heart, they would consider themselves very lucky indeed. Other love tokens included a ‘lover’s eye’, a miniature portrait presented to one lover to another as a locket or a brooch. Death was also marked in a deeply personal way – the loss of a loved one was marked by wearing, perhaps, a lock of hair in a ring.

Unfortunately, as the years went by, jewellery was broken up and recycled into other pieces as the fashions changed. It is why – in many cases – very early Georgian pieces do not exist today.

Oddly, Georgian portraiture does not always depict women (and men) wearing jewellery, but clearly jewellery was readily available and widely worn. So, next time you find yourself walking through the halls of Chatsworth or any other eighteenth-century grand house, remember the ladies that lived there would have been dressed in regal splendour, a sparkling necklace round their necks and a ring (or four) glinting brightly on their fingers.

For anyone interested to read about this glorious gem of a topic (pun fully intended), the very excellent Georgian Jewellery: 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington and Olivia Collings is a must-read (and from where the images in this blog post originate). Topics covered are wide and varied but in much greater detail than can be read here and looks at everything from Berlin iron, Wedgwood pieces, cut steel, harlequin jewels and the language of flowers. It’s a thoroughly fascinating read and a feast for your eyes, and you can buy a copy over on Amazon HERE.


My Georgian-set debut novel Pandora is due out with Harvill Secker in January 2022. It’s main character – Dora Blake – is an aspiring jewellery designer! You can pre-order by clicking the image below:
Twitter & Instagram: @SStokesChapman