Tag Archives: Elizabeth Hanbury

New Release: A Knight to the Rescue

Legacy fan Elizabeth Hanbury has recently released her 7th novel. Liz writes delightful Regency romance stories with wit and humor. I’ve read all her works, and I’m excited there’s a new short story to read — just in time for summer vacation!

This publication is special in it’s intention, however. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Crohn’s MAP Vaccine fund, a charity based at King’s College, London researching a cure for Crohn’s Disease.

Knight to the Rescue.jpg

Life is a song, but love is the music…

Life is hard for Jessica Smeaton in Regency Bath. She lives in a shabby lodging house and struggles to survive on what she earns from teaching music, hoping that one day the waltzes she composes will sell.

When handsome artist Richard Knight moves into the room above, things start off on the wrong note but could he turn out to be her knight to the rescue?

And here’s a teaser from the opening pages…

The knocking from above didn’t disturb her at first. She was so absorbed in her composing.

The second bout of knocking wrenched her mind out of her music.

The third and much louder series of knocks rang in her ears and sent a hum of indignation flowing through her veins. A stream of plaster dust drifted down from above and settled on the music manuscript in front of her. Jessica jumped up from her battered pianoforte, raised her eyes to the ceiling and uttered a growl of fury.

This was too much. The unseen brute in the room above (no woman could knock with such disdain) disliked her playing and was letting his feelings be known using the heel of his boot. She was vaguely aware of a new tenant had moved in a week or more ago but she had not yet met the person. She was too busy earning a meagre living and now he was banging the floor to complain about her playing. How insulting!

Jessica walked back to her pianoforte, flexing her fingers. Defiantly, she struck the keys as hard as she could.

The reply from above was not long in coming: ban, bang, bang!

Slowly and deliberately she closed the lid. Heat seeped into her cheeks and she tilted her chin: the light of battle had entered her soul. She’d had a dreadful week and now this. Enough was enough. Stopping only to tidy her hair in the mirror and make sure she had no plaster dust on her face, she wrenched open the door, crossed the hallway and started to climb the stairs. For once she dod not notice the peeling paintwork and faded wallpaper of the rambling old lodging house. 

Jessica didn’t consider the impropriety of tackling the idiot in his lair. The landlady Miss Cardew took an unconventional and bohemian attitude to stifling society rules. She believed it helped her tenants” artistic muse to deal with each other as they saw fit with only a few rules to keep the right side of respectable Bath society, the lodging house being tucked away in a quiet street off Queen Square. Miss Cardew loved to encourage artists and offered low rents to such types, for which Jessica was extremely grateful.

Today even the benignly vague Mis Cardew would have scuttled our of the way and felt a pang of pity for the wretch about to get a piece of Jessica’s mind. She reached the door and was tempted to bang on it with her clenched first, but her old teacher’s edict to always be a lady no matter what provocation is offered flashed before her and instead she drew a steadying breath, tapped firmly and waited.

‘Come in,’ said a voice.

She was forced to admit it was a very pleasant, silky voice even if its owner lacked an taste in music.

Jessica entered. The room was scantily furnished, as were most of the rooms in Miss Cardew’s lodging house.  A few threadbare rugs were scattered over the floor. A small fire burned in the grate. Paints and Brushes were spread out over the table under the large window, through which streamed a bright afternoon sun. Various canvases were popped up around the walls. In the centre was an easel, behind which Jessica could see top boots and a pain of breeches covering muscular thighs.

Distracting. Very distracting.

She pulled herself together. ‘I have come–‘ began Jessica.

‘I don’t need any models at present. You can leave your card on the table,’ announced the silky voice.

She felt her cheeks grow pinker, her indignation deepen. ‘I am not a model,’ she said in icy tones, ‘I cam to–‘

At this the brute emerged from behind his easel, wiping his hands. Jessica stared, her mouth falling open a little.

She might have guessed how it would be. Fate delights in playing tricks. Not only did The Brute have a voice as smooth as hot chocolate, he had  devilishly handsome exterior. Broad shouldered and of athletic build, along with the breeches, he wore a white shirt with sleeves rolled up the elbows to reveal strong forearms sprinkled with soft dark hair. his shirt was splattered here and there with paint and open at the neck to reveal a tantalising glimpse of chest hair. He was clean-shaven but his colouring meant late afternoon stubble was already shading his jaw. Beautiful brown eyes were fixed on her in a disconcerting manner. His hair was disheveled and standing up on end as if he had run his fingers through it often. Jessica felt an inconvenient urge to do the same, admitting to herself that he was one of the most attractive men she had ever seen. She might be furious but she was always fair.

I think Liz must have been remembering a certain train scene as she wrote this!

For more about Liz Hanbury’s long history as an Armitage fan, check out our earlier interview with her  here and her post about North and South‘s ten year anniversary here.

 

Love is in the Air: The Best Love Stories Ever Penned

It’s the season for hearts and flowers and The Armitage Authors Network has asked a few of our own talented romance authors — Elizabeth Hanbury, Nancy Klein, Hazel Osmond, and Charlotte Hawkins — to share which written tales of  love are most dear to their hearts.

Discover some traditional favorites and maybe one or two you haven’t read yet. What are your absolute favorite stories of true love?

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Elizabeth Hanbury:

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I love Darcy and Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice but Persuasion resonates with me more. It’s a deeply moving, against the odds story of two people who get a second chance at love. It’s also about Anne’s personal journey. Anne is a slightly older heroine who is also the overlooked middle sister at everyone’s beck and call. During the course of the novel she realizes she is the best judge of what will make her happy, and learns how to live her own life and stand up to her family and well-meaning friends. You feel for Anne (and Captain Wentworth, the self made man who never stops loving Anne through the intervening years they have been apart) in such a visceral way you can’t put the novel down.

Favourite scene: When Captain Wentworth ‘placed it before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty fixed on her for a time’. ‘It’ is one of the most beautiful love letters in literature:

‘You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan.’

Le Sigh.

The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

One of Heyer’s most tender romances. No spoilers but due to circumstances Sir Anthony (Fanshawe) and Prue (Merriot) spend a lot of time alone. This is different from many of Heyer’s other novels—society at the time didn’t allow unmarried young women to be in a man’s company without a chaperone present.

Prue and Sir Anthony’s romance is also very tactile; Sir Anthony touches Prue on the shoulder or on the hand a great deal.

Georgette Heyer wrote The Masqueraders early on in her own marriage so perhaps that had some bearing on the restrained yet heartfelt passion. The high stakes plot also heightens the intensity of the romance.

Favourites scenes: Sir Anthony fighting a duel on Prue’s behalf (it’s complicated but trust me it’s incredibly romantic), the ‘ride through the night’ and ‘the proposal’, where Tony makes his feelings and desires for Prue very clear.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

There can be only one! The classic love story of John Thornton and Margaret Hale, beautifully imagined by the 2004 BBC adaptation and Richard Armitage’s broodingly powerful yet subtle portrayal of John Thornton. You have to look ‘ard ;0) for the romance in the novel but it’s superbly done.

Devil in Winter by Linda Kleypas

The rake/wallflower romance is a well-worn plot but Devil in Winter is brilliantly executed. The characters are three-dimensional, the pace and sensual tension don’t let up for a moment and the sex scenes are steamy yet also romantic and moving. A modern classic.

Favourite scene: When Evie decides it’s time to end Sebastian’s restraint and helps him lose his bet. Keep your fan ready to cool your blushes while enjoying the heroine taking control.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

the far pav

Not only a wonderful romance but an epic adventure and a story about identity and belonging, set across the class, cultural and race divides in 19th century India.

Ash and Anjuli’s romance is heart wrenching every step of the way. You doubt they can ever be together given who they are (he is a British Army Officer, she is an Indian princess). When Ash has to escort Anjuli to her wedding in another state thousands of miles away, their turmoil is almost unbearable to read.

Favourite scene: Ash and Anjuli in the cave during the sandstorm. Exquisitely written and never have two characters deserved their moment of physical and emotional release more.

 

Elizabeth writes “wickedly captivating” Regency romances. See our interview with her here. 

 

Nancy Klein:

What are my three favorite love stories? Now, that’s a tough one—I have any number of romantic novels that I will revisit over and over. Putting aside North and South, which is a given, my three favorite love stories, in no particular order, are Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Marion Meade’s Stealing Heaven, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.

I prefer my love stories to have a large element of angst—I believe it adds suspense to the story, depth to the characters, and longing to my soul as I read. Persuasion is such a perfect story of a couple who loved, lost, and came together again; Captain Wentworth harbors bitter feelings while Anne Elliott deeply regrets turning him away. The way in which Austen brings them together is quite lovely, and the story holds a great deal of foolishness and fun which I expect from Austen.

Stealing Heaven is a novel I stumbled upon in college when I saw a production (don’t even remember the name) of two actors reading the love letters of Heloise and Peter Abelard. The acting was dreadful, but the words stuck with me. I tracked down their tragic story and stumbled on this novel which portrays their lives and love perfectly. For those who know the story, the novel is a must-read. For those who don’t, the novel is a must-read.

stealing heaven

Finally, I find myself revisiting Outlander over and over again (both in novel form and in the excellent STARZ series, which returns in April—hooray!). This time travel gem catapults a nurse from post-WWII Scotland via a circle of standing stones back to 1700’s Scotland—and into the arms of one of the best modern romantic characters ever written, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Their story has been told to date across a series of novels, but the first one remains my favorite.

Nancy’s romantic fan fiction stories of both Guy and Thornton are legendary. We reviewed her published N&S story here. 

 

Hazel Osmond:

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to discuss a few of my favourite love stories …

It’s funny, when I started thinking about those love stories that have really ‘got’ to me, I realised that most of them don’t follow the trajectory of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins her back again.’

They are more ‘boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl forever’ or ‘loses her and might get her back, we’ll never know’.

I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe I like the yearning, will they/won’t they element of these type of love stories? Maybe I find it satisfying that the doomed love affair will forever remain intense and unsullied – the couple will always remain true to each other and they will never have to navigate their way through the practicalities and niggles that creep into a life-long relationship? I mean, much as I love Pride & Prejudice, don’t you just wonder how well that love story continues? I can’t help suspecting that Darcy’s brooding intensity might hack Lizzie off three years down the line on a wet Sunday evening when they’ve been arguing about her family yet again.

No, the love stories that I come back to are not the happy ever after variety. One Day, Anna Karenina, a lot of Thomas Hardy’s books, Me Before You, The Fault in Our Stars… you’re probably getting the picture.

And if you can throw in one or both of the couple sacrificing their prospect of happiness for a noble cause, well, I’m hooked.

Here are two of my favourite love stories in novels – they don’t end happily but to me they are satisfying in a bittersweet way – the characters are battered or even defeated by what fate throws at them, but they continue to love each other. Timeless, all- transcending love, who can resist it?

‘His Dark Materials’ Trilogy by Philip Pullman

I remember reading these to my daughters when they were still quite young. As I reached the last few pages of the final part of this trilogy where Will and Lyra decide that for the greater good they have to part and return to their separate worlds, I started to cry – the tears streaming down my face variety. I remember my daughters looking at me as if were mad. What was all the fuss about?

Fast forward a few years and my eldest daughter revisited the books and appeared in the kitchen red eyed and sniffing. She was old enough to understand the emotional kick the book delivers. I still cannot think of the gentle, noble Will and the fearless Lyra’s pact to sit on the same seat, albeit in different worlds, every Midsummer’s Day and remember how much they love each other, without dissolving into a pile of mush.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement

Oh my. The exquisite cruelty that McEwan inflicts on the reader in this one. Robbie is bright, funny, honest but wrenched away from the love of his life, Cecilia, for a crime he did not commit. She waits for him and they are reunited after much adversity. Except they aren’t … we find out the happy ending has been created by Cecilia’s sister the novelist, to atone for the fact that she played a huge part in the misunderstanding that ruined their real lives. The news that Robbie died at Dunkirk and Celia in a bomb attack on London, having only met once since he was taken away to prison, is devastating.

When I read the book the first time, I remember the shock of realising that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending. I felt cheated of it, but now I think the lack of one actually makes Robbie and Cecilia’s story much more poignant. In a story that goes from a dream to a nightmare, they endure as honourable and true.

Sigh …

Hazel has written several contemporary love stories. Her ‘Who’s Afraid of Mr. Wolfe’ was shortlisted for Romantic Comedy of the Year 2012 by the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She’s also written a Guy of Gisborne fanfic that gets raves. Find out more about her and her works in our interview here.

 

Charlotte Hawkins:

The Armitage Author Network contacted Charlotte via Twitter and she gave the following short summary.

AAN: Tell us your two favorite romance books and why.

CH: My two favorites are Caught in the Act by Betina Krahn and Outlander, book one.

Caught in the Act is set in Elizabethan England. It’s about a rogue entering into an arranged marriage in order to pay off his debts. His bride is a naive but very intelligent beauty who tries to get rid of her intended groom. Of course, they fall in love. But …

The story is anything but typical. It’s clever, witty, and romantic. And very sexy.

Caught in the act

As for Outlander, I love it because of the characters. Jamie and Claire are fantastic. The story is wonderful too, and it’s sexy as hell.

AAN: But you are also a big Jane Eyre fan as well, aren’t you?

CH: I wasn’t sure if Jane Eyre would be considered a romance novel, since it’s a classic piece of literature. But yes!

AAN: And you love Jane because….

CH: I am Jane. I feel her experiences and words are mine. Although I’m still waiting to find my Mr. Rochester!

AAN: Thanks for your answers.

CH: Thanks for having me!

 

Charlotte is well known for her very romantic Guy of Gisborne series of books. For more about Charlotte and her work, see our recent interview with her here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Armitage Authors Network Interview With Elizabeth Hanbury

This week Armitage Authors Network is thrilled to bring you our interview with Elizabeth Hanbury, who tells us about her most recent book, Christmas At Rakehell Manor, which Georgette Heyer hero she’d love to hear Richard Armitage read, and what she likes most about Armitage’s fandom.

Armitage Authors Network: Tell us about your connection to Mr. Armitage. When did you discover him?

Elizabeth Hanbury: As I mentioned in the recent 10 year North & South anniversary post, I started watching the 2004 BBC adaptation of North & South. I’d always enjoyed period drama and had read the book so I’d probably have watched anyway but there was very little pre-publicity; I happened to catch a trailer and there was an article in the Radio Times.

I was hooked immediately and wanted to find out more. The intensity of that response still astonishes me. Yes, we all fell in love with John Thornton/Richard Armitage but it was more profound than that. It was this adaptation, with this cast, this script, this director, this soundtrack…. Sounds a cliché but I felt a connection. It was just one of those ‘wow’ moments when everything comes together perfectly to create a moment of magic. It happened again last summer with The Crucible in which Richard played John Proctor. I was lucky enough to see it and it turned out to be another sublime combination of cast, play, director, venue, sound, lighting etc. Like N&S, it will live long in the memory as a result. I’m so pleased it was captured on film.

I’ve followed his career closely since N&S, something I’ve not done with any other actor. Why? I’m going to go into more detail here than I have before because it’s something I’ve been reflecting on since the anniversary; ten years is a long time to stay interested in someone I’ve never met.

I guess it started with him sending that message to the BBC message board. He appreciated us appreciating his work and took the trouble to let us know. Remember, this was in 2004 long before social media like Twitter or even Facebook. Most of us were internet neophytes and Richard probably was too. But he took time out to get in touch. I liked that and liked him as a result, what he had to say and the humourous, self-deprecating way he said it (Brad Pitt in the flesh LOL). So, as much as you can ever know someone you only ‘know’ through his messages (more’s the pity, I’d love to sit down and have a chat although I’d have a list of questions as long as his legs haha!), his responses to fan mail, letters, requests for signatures, charity raffle prizes, interviews, articles and so on, he hasn’t done anything since to fundamentally change my opinion of him, forged when reading his first message.

Apart from being a great actor, he seems a charming, funny, intelligent, generous, genuinely nice guy. He’s not perfect – who is? – but he always tries to do the right thing as far as I can see and for me that’s what matters.

I’m loyal too, so unless fame and success change him and he stops appreciating his well-wishers, then I’ll continue to follow his career and hope he goes from strength to strength, finding both professional and personal fulfillment.

AAN: Were you already writing fiction at that time? What impelled you to write?

EH: Yes, unlike most other authors you’ve featured on here, I had already written fiction before North & South. I started writing because I needed an outlet, something to channel my creative energy into. I enjoy art, and draw and paint, but I also love reading, especially historical fiction.

I’d written some original fiction but, as so often happens, I had put it away in a drawer. North & South, then C19, made me take it out, dust it off and look at it again. I posted some of it on the writing board on C19 and having immediate positive feedback encouraged me to post more and it went from there. It was scary initially to share what I’d written but over time I’ve realised it’s important because there are people out there who enjoy it, and perhaps even find it an escape from their own difficulties and encourage them to be creative in turn.

AAN: Did you ever try your hand at writing fan fiction? Did you read it?

EH: I never wrote fan fiction – never felt compelled to as I liked creating my own characters – but I read a lot of it! The standard was amazingly high.

Elizabeth Hanbury, photo used with her permission

Elizabeth Hanbury, photo used with her permission

AAN: You’re an avid fan of Georgette Heyer. You must love Richard’s audio work of her works. Which Heyer hero would you absolutely love to see Richard play?

EH: Ah yes…I’ll always be grateful to him for narrating those audiobooks which combined two of my favourite things. He did it beautifully, too.

Heyer is a vastly underrated author. Her phrasing, her dialogue, her research, her style and her plot structure are wonderful. She made it look easy which is a sign of her skill. I think her contemporary critics were dismissive because she wrote romance, a genre that has never achieved the status it deserves, but she was actually read by as many men as women.

Which Heyer hero? There are many but it would have be Sir Waldo Hawkridge from The Nonesuch. He’s handsome, intelligent, romantic, humourous, a gentleman, a philanthropist, and he has some great put-down lines – what’s not to like? Kudos to Heyer for making me love a guy called Waldo! He may not be everyone’s cup of tea but he’s three-dimensional without being rude, unpleasant or overbearing.  There are few romantic heroes you’d want to meet, let alone live with, outside the pages of a novel, but Sir Waldo is an exception and I’d love to hear Richard voice him.

AAN: Tell us about your writing genre and some of your works.

EA: The Regency period is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s become synonymous with elegance and refinement but it was also a dynamic time of innovation in science and technology (which I’m also really interested in) as well as advancements in the arts. It was a society on the cusp of reform on all levels including social welfare.

I love the paradoxes of the era and believe they make the genre enduringly popular.

I’ve written five novels and several short stories, published with both UK and US publishers.

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AAN: What’s you most recent release?

Christmas at Rakehell Manor. It started off as a novella but ended up as a novel because I had heaps of fun throwing together a deeply conflicted and troubled hero with a practical heroine who disrupts his carefully planned Christmas!

AAN: Can you give us any hints about what you might be working on next?

EH: A short story about a mysterious man who lives upstairs from the heroine. Then I’ll move on to the next book in the Cavanagh Family series, which will feature a Duke as the hero. I know, I know, Dukes have been done to death in historical romance ;0) but I couldn’t resist and he will be based in fact.

AAN: How would you sum up your experience as a long-time fan of Richard’s? What has been most enjoyable or rewarding in being connected to other fans?

EH: It’s been a blast and I’d like to thank him for being the catalyst for many positive things. I’ve made some fantastic friendships because the overwhelming majority of people who follow Richard’s career are warm, friendly and very generous. You can’t help but enjoy spending time and exchanging ideas with them, be it in real life or simply on line.

Also the creative energy he sparks is amazing. I saw it from the start with the fan fiction and my own writing, but it’s continued and now there is so much wonderful fan art, fan fiction, original fiction and artwork to enjoy. It’s something unique as far as I know, and I’m sure he must be secretly delighted, as any artist or performer would be.

Last but not least, I rarely mention personal stuff on line for various reasons but I have a close family member with a chronic health condition so being able to interact with other fans has helped me through some difficult times.

AAN: What would you like Armitage fans to know about you or your work?

EH: I find it a bit weird and difficult to talk about myself – it seems self indulgent and conceited – and therefore sometimes I think I come over as reserved. But people who know me in real life know that I’m an inveterate giggler with a wicked and mischievous sense of humour. I’ve been told that side of me comes through in my writing and I hope it does.

Elizabeth Hanbury’s works are archived here. She blogs at Elizabeth Hanbury: Wickedly Captivating Historical Romance. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Hanbury and her Facebook page here.

 

 

Christmas at Rakehell Manor

For a romantic escape from the holiday rush, Elizabeth Hanbury’s most recent release will do the job admirably. [Elizabeth told Armitage Authors about her experience discovering Richard Armitage when North & South first aired here.]

Rakehell

Christmas at Rakehell Manor

I had been meaning to read a book by Elizabeth Hanbury for some time and had a couple of titles on my kindle. The blurb for this one really appealed to me. I love Regency stories and this hit all the right buttons.

Hugo, Marquess of Rakehell Manor (Raikhill Manor), named for its reputation of orgies and strange goings on, is hoping to spend time at his home so he can pretend the Christmas season is not happening. Along comes a neighbour who insists he take in his niece and friend as there is fever in his household. Hugo is railroaded into accepting, but it determined to ignore his guests as much as possible during their stay.

Enter Pru, a gentleman’s daughter, but due to being more or less alone in the world and determined to make her own way ( as a cook, companion, nurse etc) has come to visit her Uncle Nicholas, only to find she has to stay at Rakehell. She and her elderly friend Hermione accept the situation and slowly find that things are not always as they seem and to certainly not trust gossip.

There is an instant attraction between Pru and Hugo as each makes a mark on each other’s lives and begin to heal each other with a few mishaps and misunderstandings along the way. The story is romantic, tender and heartwarming, all the right boxes ticked for a Regency holiday romance. I have started reading another of her books immediately, wondering why I hadn’t before!

— Guest review by Angela Smith, a long-time Armitage admirer.

Angela gave Christmas at Rakehell Manor a five-star rating at Goodreads. For a look at what other novels Elizabeth Hanbury has written, check out her Amazon author page. Here.

#NS10: Going Back To The Beginning

The Armitage Authors Network continues our celebration of the 1oth Anniversary of  North & South this week with a special post from three of the authors we’ve archived: Elizabeth Hanbury, Phillipa Ashley, and Georgia Hill. They recently spent some time exploring Quarry Bank Mill, a site that Elizabeth Gaskell may have used as inspiration for Thonton’s Mill and the Master’s house, and they shared their photos and memories of what the early days of the fandom was like below.

Happy Anniversary!

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first broadcast of the 2004 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South.

Anyone who has only recently discovered the delights of N&S and John Thornton/Richard Armitage might not know the internet phenomenon that followed its original broadcast. The three of us (Phillipa Ashley, Liz Hanbury and Georgia Hill) were there when it happened and to celebrate this special occasion, we’re sharing our thoughts and recollections of those heady days.

“Quarry Bank Mill – it’s believed that Elizabeth Gaskell would have known the Gregs (who owned QBM) as her uncle was employed as doctor to the child apprentices there and Hannah Greg was a Unitarian and therefore part of EG’s circle. It’s been speculated that EG based N&S/JT/MH on Quarry Bank Mill, Samuel Greg and Hannah Greg.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

So let’s begin with a bit of background…

Back in November 2004 there was very little pre-publicity about this new period drama series North & South, even from the BBC. It arrived on British TV screens on Sunday evening, 14th November, relatively unheralded and unannounced. Then (as now) the BBC has a specific area on its website – messageboards – for comments and discussion on TV and Radio programmes. A messageboard for N&S was started shortly after episode one was broadcast. At first these discussions took place on the BBC’s general drama board. The contributions were plentiful but initially fairly restrained because the board was strictly moderated – more on this later. Then, someone asked “Is it just me, or is Richard Armitage hotter than a thousand suns?” and the floodgates opened!

By the end of November, the volume of messages being posted had swamped the general board, so a new board was opened especially for N&S in mid-December which sparked another 5,000 messages. This unprecedented reaction to North and South and the outpouring of emotion caused such a stir it even got a mention in the UK national press.

"Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury

“Reconstruction of a mill workers cottage, built in Styal village near to Mill.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury,

Liz says…

I was desperate to find out more after watching North & South. I’d never had such a reaction before to a TV drama before and to this day I don’t know why this production and Richard Armitage/John Thornton got under my skin as they did. Some people have described it like falling in love and it’s a fair comparison. It was certainly a wonderfully intense response. Having searched on line, there was very little information about the adaptation and even less about Richard Armitage, unless you were looking for the former US Deputy Secretary of State! I didn’t make the connection when watching N&S but I’d actually seen Richard before briefly, on stage, when he played Angus in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Macbeth in 1999.

Eventually I found the BBC drama messageboard where a very long conversation was already going on about North & South. My first feeling was one of relief. I was just pleased to find others had been similarly affected. I thought I was the only one going crazy over it!

I joined and did at least remember to use a pseudonym although the weirdos I’d been worried about finding in an on-line chat room all seemed remarkably intelligent and erudite people, quoting Gaskell, comparing the original text with the adaptation and discussing many aspects of 19th century culture and literature. The atmosphere was heady and strangely comforting for those of us caught up in this extraordinary passion. Discussion was fast, furious and fun with dollops of desire for a certain TDHCMO (that’s short for ‘tall, dark, handsome cotton mill owner’ – we created our own acronyms and phrases for speed of posting and to get around the moderators. For example, ‘South American River’ was used when you wanted to point people towards ‘Amazon’!) alongside sensible literary discussion and analysis.

A campaign was started to get the series out on DVD as only a few lucky souls had had the foresight to record every episode.

The board was strictly moderated, and messages would be removed without warning if the moderators thought we had broken the rules. We never knew who the moderators were. We only knew the two BBC hosts, Ian and Claudia, who occasionally popped up to post in the threads. There were no pictures on the board and no smilies.

Also, the board was only open until 10pm in the evening, so there would often be a mad rush just before then to post messages. It was hard to tear yourself away, such was the intensity of the discussion. One evening I made the mistake of putting on a face pack thinking I’d spend a few minutes checking on the latest postings and news. Three hours later I was still staring at the PC screen, utterly engrossed and still wearing the face pack!

And some of the threads were side-splittingly funny and off-the-wall – there was a Milton Pantomine thread featuring Henry the Horse and a thread which discussed which washing powder Mrs Thornton used to get John’s shirts so white!

It was a magical and unforgettable time and out of it came things I’ll always I treasure: the N&S DVD which might otherwise not have seen the light of day, and which continues to gain the series new fans and incite the same passionate response we experienced back in 2004; some wonderful friendships and plenty of laughter; and indirectly the push I needed to take my scribblings out of the drawer, dust them off and start writing again.

I hope Richard and the rest of the cast and crew of N&S 2004 find it heart-warming to know how many good things N&S 2004 has been the catalyst for, and feel proud to have been involved in something that continues to delight 10 years on, as well as engender a strong sense of community and goodwill among its many fans worldwide.

"Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices." Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Kitchen garden at the Apprentice House – produce from kitchen garden was used to feed apprentices.” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

Phillipa says….

 I’ve never heard that face pack story, Liz! I’d love to have seen that.

 Whizzing back ten years to that dark Sunday evening in November 2004…

 I’d always loved period dramas and when I saw N&S trailered, I thought I’d give it a go, BUT (please hide behind the sofa at this point) I hated Thornton in the first episode. I thought he was vile when he kicked the millworker and not handsome, but scary. I told my husband and daughter that I might not bother with episode 2, however, they really enjoyed it so I decided to give the series a second a chance.

 Some way into episode 2, I suddenly thought: wow, this is good and wow, this character has a magnetic charisma that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Basically I was completely hooked on the series and on Richard’s portrayal of Thornton and I wanted more of both.

 Internet forums were relatively new back then, so while I was looking for more details on the series I happened upon the BBC Drama messageboard. It was there I saw a thread that said something like: “It is just me or is John Thornton hotter than 1000 suns?”

 The board is where I ‘met’ Liz and Georgia but they had screen names then. It wasn’t until many months later that we finally met in the flesh.

 I have North & South to thank for that, and for introducing me to writing fiction and to my other C19 close friends.

"Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!" Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Inside the mill with machines and cotton dust!” Photo used with the kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Georgia says…

Heady is exactly the right word. It was an extraordinary time. I’d gone through something similar with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, back in 1995. The big difference? No internet! I had to make do with a ‘Making of’ behind the scenes book and a trip to some of the film locations. Although I still harbour a fondness for both television series and Colin Firth (who doesn’t?!) the obsession soon waned. With North & South, I had a access to a community of intelligent, educated and, let’s face it, swooning Richard Armitage fans! It revived my love of 19th century literature and history and introduced me to many books I probably would have otherwise overlooked.

I have very fond memories of the BBC site. I’d never been on an internet chat forum before and it was an absolute delight. Like having a non-stop gossip with like-minded people. We’d begin a thread discussing one thing and it would drift into something really quite different. What began as an opera topic, ended up as a discussion on whether we thought our literary hero was a virgin. There were in jokes galore too. The main snag was, at that time, I only had a dial-up internet connection. This meant not only was the phone ‘engaged’ for hours on end, I quadrupled the phone bill. That took some explaining.

Meeting up in London – for the first time – was scary. It didn’t help that a friend suggested all these women may not be all they seemed. The person who claimed to be a Jane Austen literature expert on the board may be something completely different for real! Thankfully, everyone turned out to be as lovely in real life as on the board – and as easy to talk to. We’ve gone on to have some really enjoyable weekends – to mills, Chawton and to Edinburgh where many N&S locations were filmed. I’ve made some lasting friendships which I treasure. And, of course, it sparked off my writing career.

Great fun and happy memories.

"Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!" Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

“Tables set out for celebration dinner – complete with yellow roses of course!” Photo used with kind permission of Liz Hanbury.

 Footnote…

The BBC N&S board carried on until February 2005, when it was shut down in a cost-cutting exercise. Allegedly ;0) Actually I don’t think they could cope with the deluge of posts! Richard Armitage himself posted a message to us the day before it closed and the response caused the board to go into meltdown. It never quite recovered before its final closure the following evening!

One of the members had already set up another board elsewhere for discussion about 19th century literature. When the BBC board closed, she kindly set up some extra boards about N&S for us on the C19 Messageboard, and most of us moved over there.

Copies of some of the conversations we had about North & South on the BBC board in the three months after it was aired can be found in the archive board on C19. A few members had the prescience to save some of the best ones.

And that mention in the UK national press? The Times printed an article about the phenomenon that was the BBC N&S board just before Christmas 2004. You can read it here.

We hope those who were never on the BBC board enjoy reading about that heady time. We certainly will never forget it! Let us know if you have any questions about those early days and we’ll do our best to answer them.

You can find Georgia Hill in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @georgiawrites. Phillipa Ashley is in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley. Liz Hanbury can be found in our archive here. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Hanbury.