Tag Archives: Phillipa Ashley

#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.

Armitage Authors Network Interview With Phillipa Ashley

Pippa Croft Series

Who better to sit for our first interview than author Phillipa Ashley, who may well have published the very first piece of North & South fan fiction online? We spoke to her recently about that early tale, how she made the transition to publishing original fiction, and how one of her books became a made-for-television movie.

Armitage Authors Network: Welcome, Phillipa, and thank you for agreeing to be our first interview.

Phillipa Ashley: I want to say that I’m very honoured to have been invited to take part in one of the first Q&As for this site — what a brilliant idea!

AAN: You’ve been a fan of Richard for quite a long time. Tell us a little about how you discovered Mr. Armitage.

PA: 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.

I still have no clue what happened next but 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?”

My answer was: ‘yes’ and from then on, I’m a little ashamed to say I developed an enormous crush.

phillipaashley

AAN: Did you write fan fiction for the Armitage fandom? And was it your first attempt at writing fiction?

PA: I could be wrong, but I think I may be the very first person to write an N&S fanfic, certainly a modern one. However, my first attempt was a short historical piece imagining what might happen after John and Margaret were married. I posted it anonymously on a private Yahoo N&S fan group before the final episode aired. I have to admit it was pretty rubbish but at that stage people were desperate for anything N&S related. Plus, three good things happened after I posted it. I found I loved writing fiction, I’d found an encouraging audience and I realised I just didn’t have the historical voice or knowledge to write any more period fanfic.

AAN: What impelled you to begin writing?

PA: At first, I merely wrote for my own entertainment and pleasure, hopefully delivering the same to other fans. Looking back after 13 novels, I think I was responding to essential elements of a romance that were captured by the series: powerful conflict between the hero and heroine, unresolved sexual tension and the ultimate Alpha Male!

AAN: What was it that made you decide to make the transition to writing original stories?

PA: In January 2005, I started a contemporary fanfic called N&S 2005 – original, huh? At the time, I was completely green in the craft of writing romantic fiction and my own creative process so I didn’t really understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was finding it very hard to make my modern characters conform to the plot of the original Gaskell novel and that I also kept wanting to be funny. I know now that I was experiencing the completely normal and essential fictional process of characters taking on lives of their own.

AAN: What was your first published work?

PA: After the fanfic I moved straight onto writing a novel – Decent Exposure. After I’d finished a first draft in autumn 2005, I sent it off to the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme. They made some suggestions so I revised it and got an agent to represent me in spring 2006. She sold it to Headline Little Black Dress and the rest is history.

The book is about a PR guru who persuades a Lakeland mountain rescue team to strip off for a charity calendar. I deliberately tried to make the characters as different from my N&S fanfic as possible because I wanted to see if I could write an original novel. However, Decent Exposure still has an Alpha Male hero, however, as every single one of my books does. I blame John Thornton for that. It went on to win the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme Award.

AAN: This is the book that became a television movie — can you tell us a little about how that happened?

PA: Sheer luck! A Hollywood-based producer contacted me in 2007 while I was on a 20th wedding anniversary holiday with my husband. He asked if the rights to Decent Exposure were available. People warned me that when books are optioned, very few get made into movies, so I was incredibly fortunate that the film made it to the TV screens. It’s called 12 Men of Christmas and has been on television all over the world apart from the UK!

AAN: What is your most recent release?

PA: On October 9th, Third Time Lucky, the final part of my Pippa Croft Oxford Blue romance series will be published as an e book. The series is also being published in paperback from November 2014.

I don’t need to say how excited I am, do I? The series has been an incredible journey for me, as much as the characters, Alexander and Lauren. Just like John and Margaret, Alexander is a difficult, troubled, smouldering, Alpha male and Lauren is an intelligent, opinionated, passionate woman.

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

PA: I’ve got an idea for a steamy new series and for a rom com, which I may have to work on at the same time!

You can visit Phillipa’s website at http://www.phillipa-ashley.com. The third in her Oxford Blue series (as Pippa Croft), Third Time Lucky, will be published as an e-book October 9.