Tag Archives: North & South

Exploring the Creative Process-Part VIII: Interview with Hazel Osmond

We’re bidding farewell to April with a new instalment in our Creative Process Series. This time it’s Hazel Osmond’s turn.

hazelWhat type of environment do you need to write?

It doesn’t have to be absolutely quiet, but it does have to be non-distracting. So somewhere with background noise is OK as long as it’s not too loud. If there’s music playing, it either has to be such a familiar song I’m not really tuning into it, or have no words at all.

How do your ideas come to you? Do you write them down or let them disappear?

In that time between waking up and being fully awake, I often get ideas come to me and usually I have to write them down, having learned that otherwise they flit away.  I like to go out for walks too because there’s something about the rhythm of walking that generates ideas or helps me sort out plot niggles. Those walking ideas stay with me till I can get to some paper.

Do you plan a story from the beginning to the end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they will? 

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I plan, but not too tightly. So I’ll rough out chapters and know how the story will end and the major events along the way. I’ll also make sure I get any timelines right at this stage, so for example, if there’s a seventeen year old appearing in the present day story, I make sure I have birth dates and conception dates right. But it’s loose scaffolding rather than a tight plan. If I plan too much, when I come to write the whole thing, the freshness is gone. Often as I write, new twists and turns develop so there’s room for me to surprise myself.

Do you prefer writing easy quick stories or long, layered ones?

faceI don’t know if there is such a thing as an easy, quick story! I’m going to say that as a short story writer I do like the snapshot of a life it offers and the way it makes you use every word to the greatest effect. On the other hand, there’s something satisfying in drawing all the different threads of a complicated plot together … Sorry, I can’t decide!

Which do you find easier to write: dialogue or description or are they equally hard/easy?

Definitely dialogue. I’m always eavesdropping on conversations to make sure I get the rhythms right.

Is there anything that you won’t write or feel uncomfortable writing?

I would find it hard to write about child murder or violence against the vulnerable – I became much more sensitive to anything happening to children once I had my own.

What do you do to cure writer’s block? What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories? 

The Mysterious Miss Mayhew appears courtesy of Hazel Osmond

The Mysterious Miss Mayhew appears courtesy of Hazel Osmond

Just try to keep writing in the hope that something good will emerge. Because I have spent years as a paid advertising copywriter, I have learned that you can’t wait for inspiration to show up, you just have to get the words on the page and work from there. Having said that, I had a break from writing last year following a number of deaths in the family – I needed the break from mining my own emotions to create emotional stories. Luckily it has passed and I’m writing again.

To new writers – if you’re really scared to post, find a good beta reader who can help you get your story in the best shape and then go for it. And then, well, try to put your fear in perspective … most people are kind and supportive and those who aren’t are really few and far between. And really, should you let what ‘might’ happen stop you from expressing yourself? No … do it!

What is your favorite book and why? grace

‘Vanity Fair’ by William Thackeray. Layered, complex plot; intrigue; love; battles and an amoral female protagonist in Becky Sharpe. A huge, witty, satirical blockbuster of a book!

 

 

 

Visit Hazel’s official site: www.hazelosmond.co.uk

Contact her on Twitter

Get her books from AmazonUs or AmazonUK.

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Exploring the Creative Process-Part VI: Interview with Catherine Winchester

We bid farewell to another Holiday Season with the sixth and penultimate instalment of our Creative Process series. This time we chat  with  bestselling romance author, Catherine Winchester. Cath

What type of environment do you need to write?

As long as my emotions are stable, I can write anywhere.

How do your ideas come to you?

Usually at night. I suffer with insomnia so that’s how I entertain myself until sleep claims me.

Do you always write them or do you let them disappear?

I write the ones I remember in the morning. Often I’ll be thinking about how to continue an existing story though, not a new one.

Do you plan a story from the beginning to end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they do?513VLS-pWmL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

I know the beginning, the end, and a few plot points I want to hit along the way, the rest I leave up to the characters. I find that if I plan too deeply, the characters stop talking to me.

Do you prefer writing easy, quick stories or long, layered stories?

I prefer longer stories, at least 30,000 words, usually closer to 60,000 plus.

Which do you find easier to write: dialogue or description or are the equally hard/easy?

I find dialogue easier because my characters essentially write that themselves. I think as a side effect of having a dyslexic mind, I find it hard to write evocative descriptive prose.

Is there anything that you won’t write or feel uncomfortable writing?512rbiM1BjL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Not much. My bad guys sometimes do things that I personally find distasteful and I won’t be graphic about things like that, I write to entertain my audience, not frighten them, so I don’t shy away from any topic but I hope I handle them with sensitivity.

What do you do to cure writer’s block?

Read. Other people’s writing usually inspires me.

It’s been harder than usual over the last year, I’ve been blocked a few times because I think I’ve been battling a tiny bit of depression after I lost my favourite dog, but I try to make hay while the sun shines. Right now my muse and I are engaged in battle of wills where I refuse to start anything new until she helps me finish a half written book. I’m not sure who will win at this point.

What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories?51n7-paTHCL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

It’s worth the risk. There are so few trolls on the internet and most people are kind. Plus, it’s the internet so if you’re really worried, sign up for fanfic.net, Wattpad, AO3 or Tumblr under a pseudonym. No one needs to know it’s you writing.

What is your favourite book and why?

I can’t possibly choose one! Some of them though, are

“The Watchers” by Dean Koontz. I love his writing because before I even understood why some authors turned me off and angered me, he was writing complex, strong female characters that I could relate to. This one also has a dog as a main character. How can you argue with that?

22533482“Pride and Prejudice” is a great example of people not changing exactly, but overcoming their flaws. I believe the best relationships make both parties better than they are alone, and P&P is a great example of that with added (rather cutting) insights into the social mores of the day.

“North and South” – again, for similar reasons as above. N&S also adds a layer of social issues to the plot, which gives more depth to an already interesting story. I love the insights into Margaret in the book too. Thornton is open but Margaret is very reserved and I loved the experience of her seeming rude to Thornton not because she looked down on him (although she did a bit) but simply because she had no idea how to deal with him, like tradesmen were some exotic race that society ladies were slightly frightened of. She has to overcome her sheltered upbringing and prejudices, while Thornton has to open his heart to the plight of his workers, and see that Margaret’s point of view is very valid, if slightly misguided at times.51+2mMDeJJL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

I’m sure once I sent this I’ll think of a dozen more but for now, I’ll leave it at 3 favourites.

Visit Catherine’s official site: http://www.cswinchester.net/

You can also find her on Twitter. To purchase any of CatheRine’s works, including her North & South novels, go to AmazonUS or AmazonUK.

Exploring the Creative Process, Part V: Interview with Julia Daniels

We welcome the last fortnight of 2015 with the fifth instalment in our Creative Process series. This time we chat  with  another published romantic author, Julia Daniels.Julia

What type of environment do you need to write?

I have two wonderful teenagers in my house. I thought when they finally reached this age, they would be less needy of my time, but I was wrong! I try to be wherever they are, because I want to be around them as much as I can before they leave home!

So, to avoid distractions and still be somewhat accessible, I wear headphones and listen to music to drown out the noise from their video games and whatever Netflix show my daughter happens to be watching. I create a playlist for whichever book I am writing at the time, with a certain theme to the music. For example, when I wrote Master of Her Heart, I used a lot of British tunes, classical music they may have listened to at the time, or music with lyrics that reminded me of scenes from the book or mini-series. It usually puts me in the right frame of mind as I write, too.master

How do your ideas come to you?

My ideas usually start with the characters. I think about what odd situations I can create for them to fall into. Mr. Thornton is hard to manipulate much, he’s pretty perfect the way he is, but Miss Hale… now she definitely needs her head adjusted from time to time!

My latest idea came about in such an odd way. A friend of mine develops cross stitch, rug hooking and needle punch patterns. She was selected as a finalist in a contest Martha Stewart was running at her website for “Handmade in America” products. Well, my friend didn’t win, but the company that did is a family-run sock manufacturer in a sleepy town in the south. Alarm bells went off in my head and immediately I had Thornton as a sock manufacturer in the south and Margaret a snooty gal from the north. This one will be a contemporary novel. I cannot wait to write it!

Do you plan a story from the beginning to end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they do?earl

I started using a new software called Scrivener that lets me skip around. So, on the current book I’m working on for my upcoming Mill Master’s series, I had all these scenes way later in the novel suddenly popping in my head. With this software I can add whatever I want and not get lost in the storyline.

Usually, I have the major plot points and characters in my head from start to finish, but there are often scenes and incidents that suddenly appear as I write, so I have to be flexible to let the characters lead the story!

Which do you find easier to write: dialogue or description or are the equally hard/easy?

Good dialogue is the key to a good book! It shows the interaction of the characters, and characters are the driving force of the book. Description, of course, draws the pretty picture of the scene, but without strong characters and snappy dialogue the book falls flat for me.

Is there anything that you won’t write or feel uncomfortable writing?duchess

I am not a big fan of erotica or sexually explicit romance. That’s not to say there won’t ever be flush-worthy scenes in my novels, but sex for sex sake won’t happen. I’m also not very comfortable with child abuse or graphic incidents of harm to animals or people.

What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories?

Go for it! I’m hungry for new stories, and new authors. Remember there is no “grade” associated with your submission and the comments I have received are very kind and supportive. Take a risk, you will be really glad that you tried! Just make sure you are willing to keep up with your stories. I get super frustrated when I get addicted to a story and then it’s never updated.

What is your favorite book and why?choices

Oh so many! The Little House on the Prairie Series, Sarah Plain and Tall, Pride and Prejudice and of course North and South (although I do like many of the adaptations better!).

Visit Julia’s official site: https://juliadaniels.wordpress.com

You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. To purchase Master of her Heart or any of Julia’s works, go to AmazonUS or AmazonUK.

Sample the first chapters of her latest North & South story, “Milton’s Mill Master: A Variation of North & South”, on Wattpad.

ETA: Julia’s posting a Christmas story that will serve as an epilogue to her North & South novel “Master of her Heart”. You can find it on Wattpad: “A Mill Master’s Christmas”

 

 

Exploring the Creative Process, Part III: Interview with Emma Marlow

We welcome the weekend with the third instalment in our Creative Process series with an interview featuring another published author, Emma Marlow.

What type of environment do you need to write?

Emma Marlow

Emma Marlow

I prefer to write when I’m alone – that’s when I work best – but I often have to write at the kitchen table whilst my daughter covers everything in hummus. I can’t write if someone’s got music or the TV on. If my husband wants to watch TV, I have to relocate to a different part of the house.

How do your ideas come to you? Do you always write them or do you let them disappear?

Ideas usually just come to me. I tend to get one or two key “scenes” which just pop into my mind. I let the image play on repeat and then slowly flesh it out a bit until it’s something I can’t forget. I never write an idea down – even if I get an idea just after I’ve started on a new project, and it’s therefore something I won’t be able to work on for months. I find writing it down tends to sap the life out of it, and I lose my passion for the idea. So far – touch wood! – I’ve never forgotten an idea.

Do you plan a story from the beginning to end or start with an idea and let the chapters come to you as they do?

41wZ9duZqlL._UY250_I never plan a story; I just have those one or two key scenes as landmarks. I just start writing and meander along until I get to that scene I’ve known that I wanted to write. Sometimes the scene has to change a little because of how I’ve written the story, but the premise is always the same. I never know how a story is going to end when I start writing it. I like the ending to surprise myself. I like it to naturally unfurl, rather than trying to make my writing fit something I’ve pre-planned.

Do you prefer writing easy, quick stories or long, layered stories?

I’m not keen on stories much below 90k words because I tend to feel that they’re under-developed. That said, I’m not the most concise writer ever, so other people could probably write my stories much more succinctly. No matter the length of the story, I like to always have something that’s a bit on an ensemble piece. I like to layer my stories so that there are little sub-plots, and not just the main storyline of the protagonist.

Is there anything that you won’t write or feel uncomfortable 410owESGUbL._UY250_writing?

I’d give anything a try. So far I’ve tried my hand at historical fiction, romance, chick lit, mystery/crime thrillers, sci-fi, drama and a bit of erotica. I tend to prefer writing about things that are real, past or present, so fantasy, sci-fi, monsters or talking animals… I don’t really enjoy that so much.

What do you do to cure writer’s block?

In the first instance, I quiz my husband. We are completely different creatures, so he always looks at plots etc. from an entirely different perspective. He’s helped me out a few times, and managed to get me back on track. If talking it through doesn’t solve the problem, I set the story aside, and start a new project. The story will either come or it won’t, and if I persevere when it’s just not coming to me, I’ll end up with something I’m unhappy with. It means a few stories which have been abandoned about about 90k words, but some of them I intend to come back to one day.

What advice can you give to new writers who might be scared to post their stories?

51WVDX6+qoL._UY250_Read all the time. I think the more you read, the better you’ll be at writing. If you read other people’s work – self-published or otherwise – and think that your writing is just as good, why shouldn’t you share it with people? If you’re anxious about how your writing will be received, pick a pen name. You don’t even have to tell your friends or family that you’re writing. When you can self publish eBooks, post on writer’s forums and the likes of wattpad, you have a certain anonymity which can take away the fear for a new writer. If you do decide to share your stories, don’t get too hung up on critical feedback; you can’t please everyone.

What is your favourite book and why?

For me, the best books are those I read as a teenager; books which have left a lasting impression more than a decade later: North and South, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo, Bridget Jones’ Diary. Each story was immersive and emotionally engaging. I feel a fierce loyalty to those books and could read them time and again. The best thing I’ve read recently is probably Prue Batten’s Gisborne Saga; the history, the research, the intrigue – it’s incredible!

Visit Emma’s official siteShadow in the North

Follow her on Facebook

Get her novels from AmazonUK and AmazonUS

Sample her work, including her North & South-inspired fic Shadow in the North” on Wattpad.

 

 

 

 

 

The Armitage Authors Network Interview With Catherine Winchester

We loved bringing you the sweet North & South romance “A Merry Little Christmas” this weekend and now The Armitage Authors Network is pleased to bring you our interview with the author, Catherine Winchester. We talked to her recently about Richard Armitage as an inspiration for her heroes, her writing process and what it’s like to market herself as an independent author.

Armitage Authors Network: Welcome to the blog, Catherine. Can you tell us a little about how you became a fan of Richard Armitage?

Catherine Winchester: Watching North & South. I’d been on a historical drama bend and having rewatched all my favourite classics, I looked for ones I may have missed. N&S had good reviews so I tried it.

AAN: What was it about him that’s been an inspiration to you as a writer – him as an actor, a particular character, etc.? How are your heroes inspired by him?

CW: I can’t say what it is about him that inspires me. All I can tell you is that to write a scene, I have to be able to see it, and he’s such a versatile actor that he’s very easy to picture in a myriad of different roles.

AAN: You’ve published two North & South novels, one a continuation of Gaskell’s story and one a time-travel romance. Can you tell us a little about the difference between writing John Thornton as the husband of Margaret Hale in Northern Light and John Thornton as the employer and suitor of modern woman Carrie Preston in What You Wish For?

CW: They were very different, actually. For Northern Light, I wanted to focus on Margaret’s desire to affect change among and for the working classes, something that John came to see the logic in too. The Victorian era was full of social change as many in the ruling classes sought to improve things for the working classes. The Victorians brought in the first laws governing things such as child labor and working hours, they made education compulsory and they gave the working man the vote, so it was an era of huge social change. The whole story was built around John and Margaret’s desire to build a “model village” for their workers, which I based on the village of Saltaire. Saltaire was built in 1851 by Titus Salt on the river Aire, hence Salt-aire. He wanted to provide his woolen mill workers with decent living conditions and although there were older model villages, Salt’s was in the same time period, region and in a similar industry.

Northern Light: A Sequel to North & South by Catherine Winchester

Northern Light: A Sequel to North & South by Catherine Winchester

I also had to stay true to the social mores as they were written by Gaskell. Her writings are very clean, morally speaking, and I had to honor that, despite my historical research painting a very different light of the times. One example is sex. Much Victorian literature ignored it completely and it is just assumed that both men and women were virgins on their wedding night. Actual figures for illegitimate births and pregnant brides show that at nearly fifty percent of women had sex before marriage. Prostitution was the second biggest employer of women, second only to being a servant and syphilis infected one third of the armed forced and 10% of the general population in metropolitan regions. In addition, birth control was available in the form of condoms made from animal intestines, sea sponges soaked in vinegar, quinine or olive oil, vaginal douches and even diaphragms, usually called rubber pessaries. Advertisements for such devices appeared in many publications of the time but it’s worth remembering that few people could read in the 1850s, so only the educated could access them as proved by the difference in birth rates between the working and upper classes. Many examples of such devices still exist in medical museums.

Clearly there was a lot more sex being had than the Victorians would have us believe but aside from a brief mention of there being ways to impede pregnancy and a doctor’s advice to stop ‘marital relations’ when Margaret’s pregnancy faces complications, I never touch on the subject of sex in Northern Light. The Victorians were also very hypocritical with sex though, assuming that men would seek sex and while that was frowned upon, it was acceptable, while a woman who was discovered having premarital or extra marital sex was a pariah.

What You Wish For by Catherine Winchester

What You Wish For by Catherine Winchester

In What You Wish For, I have a modern day female heroine who has obviously lived by our modern social mores and isn’t a virgin. I felt that I had to address this in some respect as it was probably one of the biggest differences in how we live our lives and likely, the most shocking thing about how modern British women live to a man from the Victorian era. I also gave John a past that would be in keeping with the times, he isn’t a cad or a bounder, but he isn’t a virgin either. Then of course, it was fun to explore some of the other differences between then and now in things such as medicine. The Victorians actually knew very little about the human body, for example many doctors still believed in bloodletting as a treatment and cure and they believed that bad smells transmitted disease and caused infection. Ignaz Semmelweis, the first doctor who suggested that doctors and surgeons should wash their hands in between patients and wear clean aprons — they wore dirty ones as a sign of their good trade — died in disgrace, a broken man.

So yes, the approach to each was very different but as an author, both were rewarding.

AAN: You’re incredibly prolific, can you tell us a little about your writing process?

CW: It stems from insomnia. I’ve had trouble sleeping since I was a child and it only got worse with adult problems. While I lie there, rather than replay events or worry about things, I have always created stories to distract myself. Once I began to write, certain scenes would plague me night after night, until I purged them by writing them down, then the next night, the story could move on in my mind.

AAN: You write in several genres, do you have a favorite?

CW: Honestly, it’s speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy type, but while my works in that area have been well received, they aren’t big sellers. I like all the genres I write in though, or I wouldn’t write them.

AAN: You’ve been very open about having dyslexia. How has that affected the way you write?

CW: It stopped me for many years. I would write stories in school feeling as proud as punch but they came back covered in red ink. They never commented on the story, only the spelling and grammar used to tell it, so I ended up thinking the whole thing was rubbish.

I kept creating stories in my head though and then I discovered Star Trek tie-in novels. I didn’t even know fan fiction existed but began to craft stories around my favourite TV shows of the time, which back then were Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quantum Leap. I would write stories based on them in spiral bound notebooks then later, on my school computer. I never showed them to anyone though, I didn’t see the point. When I finally got a home PC, I discovered fan fiction and began to post a few stories, they were in email groups then, rather than on a specific site. I’d moved onto Buffy the Vampire Slayer by then.

I think the internet was generally a nicer place back then and everyone was supportive and appreciative of my efforts. I don’t recall my spelling mistakes ever being brought up back then. Slowly, I learned how to better craft and pace my stories, and I’ve taught myself far more about spelling and grammar than my school was ever able to teach me. It still took over 10 years before I felt ready to try writing an original book.

AAN: What was the first piece you published?

CW: The first book was Past Due, part one of a vampire series. There are five planned, of which I’ve written three.

Past Due by Catherine Winchester

Past Due by Catherine Winchester

AAN: What made you decide to publish independently rather than through a publishing house?

CW: I sent the book to publishers and while I had a couple reply asking for the full manuscript, it went nowhere. But the book was written and just sitting there, doing nothing, so I looked into self-publishing. I had nothing to lose by that point, and my family rallied around to help me edit and proof it. I taught myself to use GIMP graphics program (which is open source and free) and bought stock photos for the cover.

The Reluctant Duchess, written by Catherine Winchester and narrated by Eva Hathaway

The Reluctant Duchess, written by Catherine Winchester and narrated by Eva Hathaway

AAN: How did the audio version of The Reluctant Duchess, narrated by Eva Hathaway, come about?

CW: I’d heard about it, it’s another amazon company, basically self-publishing for audio books with the royalties usually split 50/50 between author and narrator. You can also pay a flat fee to the narrators. It was a very new thing for me as I was expected to critique the version and make changes. Considering that I knew nothing about audiobooks and voice work, it was very uncomfortable for me, but I was lucky to have picked someone who seemed to know what she was doing and she did a very good job. When I can face it, I intend to turn my other books into audio books too because with the 50/50 royalty split, you have nothing to lose.

AAN: You do all the marketing on your books, can you explain to our readers a little about what’s involved in that?

CW: I have tried almost every marketing trick going and have found that very few of them actually pay dividends for the time involved. The best promotional tool I’ve ever used is Amazon’s Select’s free program. For every three months you agree for your eBook to be exclusively with Amazon, you can give it away for free for five days. I know it sounds counterproductive but it really does encourage new readers to give your book a chance, which results in reviews on your page, sales of your other books,assuming they liked what they read, and recommendations to their friends and family. A lot of people tie their Amazon and Goodreads accounts to Twitter, so purchases and reviews automatically appear on their Tweets.

Other than that, I’ve rounded up my personal experiences with other marketing ideas on my blog.

You can find Catherine Winchester’s books on Amazon here.  Her books are archived here under the tabs John Thornton, Armitage Inspired Heroes, and Other Works by Armitage Authors. Follow her on Twitter @CatWAuthor and on Facebook here. She also blogs at Catherine Winchester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NS10: A Merry Little Christmas Fan Fiction, Part 2

For our final week of the 10th anniversary of North & South we’re pleased to bring you A Merry Little Christmas, a romantic Christmas fan fiction by Catherine Winchester, author of  N&S novels What You Wish For and Northern Light. We’ve split it into two posts with the first two parts yesterday here and the final two below. Thank you, Cat, for sharing this early Christmas present with our readers!

Chapter Three

The next morning I believe we both felt that we’d had our share of being idle and although we took our time in rousing ourselves, we decided to actually get dressed and take a turn around the town. Margaret cooked breakfast this morning, bacon, eggs and fried bread (to hide the fact that it was now a little stale) which we ate at the kitchen table again. Then we decided to take a stroll to the Mitre Hotel for afternoon tea.

“We’re going to be far too early,” Margaret said as she wrapped her scarf around her neck and pulled her winter coat on.

“Then we had best make it a slow walk.”

We headed to the park first, taking our time and enjoying the scenery around us. While many people had returned to work today, most of the shops seemed closed, clearly taking advantage of an extra day off.

Everyone we passed, even those who seemed to be working, had a ready smile and a warm “Good morning” for us.

At we neared the top of the hill in the park, Margaret noted that the park and indeed the whole town, looked magical under its fresh covering of snow. Many of the mill chimneys were active again since many businesses don’t recognise Boxing Day as a holiday but today the smoke only added to the festive look of the town.

There were a few people milling around in the park. Some children were making snowmen, as we had yesterday and another group were having a snowball fight. The adults seemed to be enjoying the view of the town for none of them seemed in a rush to get to their destinations and most kept glancing back over the town.

Margaret began rubbing her gloved hands together so I looked around to make sure that we were unobserved, then pulled Margaret behind a large tree nearby. Opening my coat, I placed her hands around me so that the heat from my back could warm her hands. My chest would have done just as well but this way I also got to embrace her.

We stole a few kisses while hidden back there but when Margaret’s hands had warmed sufficiently, we continued on our way.

Though we had missed the morning service, we stopped in at the local church so that Margaret could say her prayers.

I offered my own silent prayer, thanking Him for my good fortune of late and, feeling the Christmas spirit myself, slipped a generous amount into the pauper’s box on our way out.

With that done we continued to the hotel, pausing to look in some of the shop windows we passed since it seemed that many had gone out of their way to make their windows look festive. Many shops had miniature, hand made nativity scenes on display and it was interesting to see how each one differed from its neighbour. Paper chains and ivy garlands were draped around most windows and wreaths adorned almost every door we passed.

We stopped in at the bakers, one of the few open shops, and bought some fresh bread. The baker greeted us with a hearty smile and threw in two free gingerbread men that had been iced to look like snowmen. We thanked him and continued on our way.

“I still find it hard to believe that there was a time when people didn’t celebrate Christmas,” Margaret said as we walked. “This is all so lovely that I don’t understand why anyone would want to miss it.”

“Perhaps they didn’t know what they were missing,” I reasoned.

“If that’s true, it really would be a shame,” she said, tightening her grip on my arm and resting her head briefly on my shoulder.

Those passing us who might usually look upon such a public display of affection with distaste, today only smiled at us, perhaps understanding the need to show love at this time of year.

As we entered the town square it seemed that we had interrupted a snowball fight among some of the local children and as one hit me square in the chest, the boy who had thrown it paused in fright for a moment. Then obviously deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he turned tail and ran, his friends hot on his heels.

I was angry and about to shout after them (what if they had hit Margaret instead of me!) when Margaret’s laugher caught my attention. It seems that she found both my predicament and my annoyance amusing.

“They’re only having fun,” she said as she brushed the snow from my coat.

“You call that fun?” I asked. “They could hurt someone.”

“Yes, well you thought it was rather fun yesterday, if I recall correctly.”

She had me there, but I wasn’t giving in that easily.

“You started that,” I reminded her. “And besides, we were in the safety of our garden, not hurling missiles at random strangers in the street.”

Margaret smiled indulgently then reached up and kissed me softly, causing the last of my anger to evaporate.

“Come on,” she said, slipping her arm through mine again. “I don’t know about you but I’m ready for a nice pot of hot tea.”

We continued to the hotel which was not far from the square and arrived just in time for afternoon tea. They seated us by a window and we enjoyed watching the world pass us by as the people outside laughed, joked and enjoyed the snow and festive season.

“I wish we could do this every year,” she said. “I’ve loved these two days on our own.”

“And I, love.”

We both knew that we would not be this lucky every year but a part of me hoped that we could recreate this feeling of solitude some time soon. We had not even had the luxury of a honeymoon after our wedding and now that I knew what time alone with Margaret could be like, I was more sorry than ever for that fact.

The mill would be running as normal in another few months so I began to wonder about the possibility of us taking a late honeymoon, perhaps visiting Margaret’s brother. It was too soon to voice such ideas to Margaret in case I could not be spared from the mill but I was determined to do my best and secure us a holiday in the coming year. Preferably sooner rather than later.

When the tea, sandwiches and cakes were finished, we paid the bill and set about reapplying all the layers of clothing that we had removed when we entered. Bundled up once more, we headed out onto the street.

The snow was falling again, large fluffy white flakes drifting gently to the ground. Margaret put her hand out in front of her, palm up and watched as the flakes landed there and melted.

“Let’s hail a cab,” I suggested. Snow is very pretty to watch but I didn’t much fancy the idea of walking all the way home in it. “I find that I am somewhat eager to curl up in front of a nice, warm fire with you once again.”

Margaret put her hand down and nodded her agreement. I hailed the first passing cab and after telling the driver our address, we climbed into the carriage. Thankfully it was enclosed and we were somewhat sheltered from the biting cold.

Though most surely shocking to anyone who might have seen, I couldn’t resist Margaret any longer and removed my hat before I leaned over and kissed her. She responded with equal ardour and by the time the cab slowed to a stop, we were both slightly breathless and her lips were quite red and swollen.

After I had paid the driver, we headed inside and although all I wanted to do was have my way with Margaret, I knew that the fires needed tending first.

I had built them up this morning so none had died out but the range in the kitchen was on its last legs. I stoked up the rear parlour fire also in case we spent any time in that room, then I headed up to our bedroom to find that Margaret had already taken care of the fire in there.

She was lying under the eiderdown by the fire and as far as I could tell, not wearing a single stitch of clothing. She had taken her hair out of its bun so it lay fanned out around her head and I paused for a moment to admire her.

“Come and join me,” she pleaded.

‘How is a man meant to resist a request like that,’ I asked myself? The answer was simple; ‘he isn’t.’

Chapter Four

A little later that afternoon we ventured down to the kitchen once more for some more of Cook’s excellent Christmas pudding with brandy cream and mulled wine, which we took into the rear parlour and sat on the window seat to watch the snow falling.

“If it keeps on at this rate, Milton might be snowed in by tomorrow,” I mused, wondering if the mill would be affected. The hands were all within walking distance so they should be able to come to work but would the trains and canal boats be running? We could probably survive on our reserves for a week or so if the worst came to the worst and we were cut off. If it went on any longer though, I would begin to receive fines as some orders would become overdue.

“We’re supposed to be on holiday,” Margaret reminded me.

“Sorry,” I said a little sheepishly. Margaret smiled indulgently.

“If you want to worry about something, worry about all this rich food going straight to my hips,” she said, unapologetically popping another forkfull of pudding into her mouth.

“We walked half way across Milton this morning in four inches of snow,” I reassured her. “I think it’s safe to say that we have already worked the pudding off. Besides, you would have eaten much more if we had accepted Fanny’s Christmas invitation; Mother told me that she was planning on serving a twelve course luncheon on Christmas Day.”

“Twelve courses! Your mother will be fit to be tied when she gets home,” Margaret said, knowing how much my Mother dislikes extravagance and detests waste.

“She knew what she was letting herself in for,” I reassured her, though we both realised that we owed Mother a large debt of gratitude for giving us this time alone.

I finished my pudding and brandy cream and placed my plate to one side.

“Good,” Margaret said, spearing a piece of her pudding onto her fork. “Now you can help me.” She grinned as she aimed the fork at my lips.

I took the offered morsel and quickly swallowed.

“I see; so you want me to become rotund so that you can keep your girlish figure?”

“Exactly.” Margaret laughed. “And while we’re on the subject of rotund, I’ll be expecting you to have all the babies.”

She was so guileless that for a second I might have believed she meant it.

“Oh you will, will you?” I tried hard to suppress my smile but I wasn’t as successful as she.

“Yes.” She fed me another piece of pudding.

“That might make running the mill rather awkward,” I reasoned once I’d swallowed.

“You’ll manage,” she smiled. “You always do.”

Between us we finished her pudding and as the daylight faded, left the window and pulled the heavy curtains closed to keep the heat in.

I spied the piano in the corner.

“Do you know any carols?” I asked.

“I used to know a few but it’s been a long time.” I could tell from her tone that she was reluctant. I’ve heard her play though and perhaps she isn’t a virtuoso but to my ear her playing is lovely.

“Please?”

I could see her wavering.

“If I’m carrying the babies for you, I think the least you can do is sing me a song.”

She laughed at my reasoning and finally nodded her agreement. She made her way over to the piano, sat down and lifted the lid. Her long hair fell over her shoulder and she brushed it behind her ear, out of her face.

“I can’t see what I’m doing,” she said.

Realising that the firelight wouldn’t reach over there, I lit two oil lamps and a five arm candelabra. I placed the oil lamps on top on the piano and the candelabra on a table to the side so that she could see the keys. It still wasn’t much light; when we had a dinner party this room would be ablaze with candles but this was sufficient for our needs.

Margaret began playing “Silent Night.”

I hadn’t thought it possible to love her any more than I already did but the voice that accompanied her playing was so soft and exquisite. I have heard her humming to herself before but nothing like this. It revealed a vulnerability that few people were privileged enough to see. I moved around the piano so that I could look at her while she played and her hesitant expression reminded me of our reunion, when, although she thought that I no longer cared for her (because fool that I am, that is what I had told her) she had still offered to loan me money for the mill.

She looked up at me and I smiled reassuringly.

“That was lovely,” I said when she had finished.

“It was a favourite of my father’s,” she confessed.

I considered asking for another but she still looked reluctant so instead I sat beside her on the piano stool.

“So, come on then, teach me the basics.”

She smiled and tried for a while but it quickly became clear that I had no musical talent. Instead she suggested that I read to her.

Before Mother left for Fanny’s home, we had been reading nightly from A Christmas Carol. We were nearing the end now and she had once told me how much she enjoyed the ending, so with the candles, lamps and a fresh pot of tea, we retired to our bedroom. We settled on the floor by the fire once more, my back against one of the chairs and Margaret lying across the eiderdown, her head resting on my lap.

With one hand I lazily played with her hair while my other held the book. Every now and again I would glance down at her to see if she was still enjoying herself and often caught her smiling, especially as the book drew to a close. Margaret did so love a happy ending.

I put the book down when we were finished and Margaret sat up.

“Thank you,” she said, leaning forward and kissing me.

“My pleasure.”

Just then we heard the clock downstairs chime eight o’clock and shared a look. We both knew that tomorrow morning we would be back to reality; the mill would reopen, the servants would return and Mother would come home. Our solitude was coming to an end.

“We shouldn’t be too late to bed,” Margaret said somewhat sadly. “We will both have busy days tomorrow.”

I nodded and sighed, then an idea occurred to me.

“I think that perhaps we should have a very early night,” I said. “In fact I think we should retire to bed within the half hour.”

Margaret caught my meaning and smiled.

“Why don’t you go down and get us each a small brandy while I put the eiderdown back on the bed.”

“What a very good idea, Mrs Thornton.” I kissed her then headed down to get our drinks.

I was still awake as the clock chimed ten o’clock but I could tell from Margaret’s deep breathing that she was fast asleep. Her head was resting on my shoulder and her breath lightly tickled my chest with each exhalation

I was still unwilling to sleep for the next thing I would know was the hustle and bustle of daily life.

I imagined what Margaret would say if she knew why I was still awake and smiled as I heard her voice in my head. And she was right.

Yes, tomorrow we would be back to reality and to the daily routine but no matter what the future held for us, we would always have the memories of the last two days to help see us through.

I kissed the top of Margaret’s head.

“Goodnight, my love. Sweet dreams.”

I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The End

Cat Winchester can be found archived under the tabs John Thornton, Armitage Inspired Heroes, and Other Works by Armitage Authors on the header above. Our interview with her appears tomorrow.

#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.