Centre Stage

Being part of the Choc Lit Virtual Book Festival and being partnered with Sue McDonagh has been lovely. To round off the day, I’m doing a quick blog post to recap a little about A Secret Rose, and to give you a taster of the second Pencradoc Book, Lily’s Secret, which is due out in July.

If you know anything about A Secret Rose, you’ll know it was a long time coming. About twenty years, to be exact, as I started writing it in 1997 or thereabouts. It was my homage to Victoria Holt and not great, but now it’s a book I’m proud of. I recall in the first draft, back in the day, I had a ‘foisty’ heroine, instead of a ‘feisty’ one, so thank goodness I have a proper editor now! I don’t think the heroines in A Secret Rose – Merryn, Alys, Zennor or Rose herself – would appreciate being called ‘foisty’, even if, like Rose, her portrait had been hidden away in a secret room forever.

Talking of portraits, there were a couple that really inspired me when I was writing the Choc Lit book. I’ve put copies of them here. The first one is Madame X by John Singer Sargent, and was a terribly scandalous picture in its day. “Madame X” herself was, in fact, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, a “professional beauty”, an American expatriate who married a French banker, and a lady who became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and apparent infidelities. Singer Sargent created this masterpiece at his own request, and not as a commission, and the picture rocked society when the portrait was displayed at the Paris Salon. In fact, Singer Sargent had to take the painting away and repaint Virginie’s shoulder straps to make them appear more secure! Madame X then hung in the artist’s studio for several years while he tried to rebuild his reputation… It was the scandal and excitement that surrounded this picture that fed into the hidden portrait of Rose in the book.

madame x

The portrait I thought was most like the one de Amato painted of Rose in my book, which so upset her husband, was this one, Portrait of a Young Woman, by Giovanni Boldini. There is a wealth of fabulously scandalous pictures of beautiful women by Boldini on the internet if you care to look him up and I recommend that you do.


The third picture is Lady Marjorie Manners, aged about seventeen, by Sir James Jebusa Shannon. Marjorie was later the Marchioness of Anglesey, and when I saw this picture I immediately thought of my heroine Zennor, and how this was quite a lovely representation of the picture her lover Ruan Teague painted of her.

marjorie manners

As A Secret Rose leant itself perfectly to a sequel (I decided that Pencradoc had more than one dark secret), the second book, Lily’s Secret, plucks Merryn’s friend Cordelia out of London and drops her into the world of Pencradoc as they celebrate a visit by the infamous actress Lily Valentine over one hundred years ago. Little Elsie, Zennor’s daughter, is now aged eight, and Lily Valentine is her heroine – so imagine her excitement when she realises Lily has married her Uncle Jago’s friend Edwin and they are coming to visit – and perhaps Lily might put on a Pageant with her… Here’s a little extract from the book.

On one particular evening as they were seated around the dinner table, Elsie leaned over and asked, very politely, if Lily would consider something which had been on her mind for a little while.

‘I do hope you don’t mind me asking,’ the little girl continued, ‘but I was wondering if it would be at all possible for us to stage a pageant?’ She looked at Lily hopefully. ‘You see, it has always been my dream to be involved with something like a pageant, but my cousins are still rather small to direct in such important roles.’

‘A pageant?’ Lily was surprised. ‘Wouldn’t that be rather a big thing to do?’

‘Usually it would. Some pageants are very big and have very many people in them, but I was thinking that this one could be much … smaller.’

‘It would have to be smaller,’ said Alys. ‘You don’t have a lot of people who could go in your pageant!’

‘I have, actually. I have you and Uncle Jago. My cousins. Mr Griffiths. And—’ she ticked the names off importantly on her fingers ‘—Lily Valentine. And myself. Of course. Oh! And Biscuit. How many is that? Ten? I have ten people.’

‘Biscuit isn’t a person,’ muttered Clara. ‘He’s a dog.’

‘He’s a person to me.’ Elsie dismissed her cousin with a look. ‘So I think that is quite a good number for a small pageant.’

Finally, I just want to say that I hope you grow to love the world of Pencradoc as much as I do – and I also hope that you’ve enjoyed the Choc Lit Virtual Book Festival today, and that you grab Lily’s Secret in July, and see for yourself how Elsie’s pageant turned out!

Enjoy the rest of our Festival!

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