Extract from Lady Sophia – a novella

Sophia’s Escape

If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” Jane Austen

Sophia frowned at her aunt. Their conflict seemed to be constant at the moment. Whatever Sophia asked of her, the answer was always an emphatic ‘no’. So, it was no to a visit to the island of Murano in the company of other tourists, to watch glass being made; it was a no to the invitation to Count Albanolo’s party.

After frequent refusals, Sophia decided that she wouldn’t bother to ask any further. If there was something she wished to do, she would find another way to achieve it, a way that didn’t have to involve being accompanied by Aunt Matilda. She was frustrated that they had come to Venice, a place that was so full of energy and excitement, yet she had taken no part in anything.

Aunt Matilda sat opposite in serene ignorance of Sophia’s churning emotions, calmly drinking tea and eating a muffin. She was a lady of predictable and conservative habits, so that travelling by carriage and six, and living in the Palazzo seemed to offer enough novelty to satisfy her.

In the weeks they had been in Venice, they had only done a little shopping, and visited an artist’s studio.

The painter, Signor Zapetti, had worked hard to charm the old lady, and convince her that a portrait of her niece would be the very thing to take home to Sophia’s papa, as a lasting souvenir of their trip. So Sophia had dressed carefully, in a sumptuous blue gown trimmed with lace for the sitting, wearing her 18th birthday gift, a gold enamelled fob watch on a chain, her pride and joy. And unbeknown to Aunt, the artist had put another proposal to her, that she should occasionally model for him, and be an eye-catching addition to a Venetian palazzo wall.

Of course she had accepted, and took pleasure from the knowledge that she could model for the fresco because her aunt had turned down the invitation to the Villa Bellona and would never see the finished article. She had worked out how to attend the sittings without her chaperone, and was expecting to complete them that afternoon.

Her aunt yawned. ‘I must say, I believe this muffin is excellent. Ring the bell, my dear, and we’ll have another. Would you like another?’

‘No thank you Aunt.’

The bell sat a mere four feet from her aunt’s languid hand, but the suggestion that the lady might care to ring it for herself might have seemed impertinent. Instead, Sophia did her duty, and on the return to her seat, yawned too. It must be catching. She was beginning to think that there was little more excitement to be wrung from Venice, but then pulled herself up, mentally. What could she be thinking? Of course there was! She just needed to show a little more creativity, and all would be well. She had an advantage. It would not occur to Aunt Matilda that her niece would set out to deceive her.

At home in Amersham, Sophia probably never could, for life in the English provinces had been tame, she was kept close, and the neighbours knew every movement of everyone else in their circle. In Venice, however, anything was possible. She was an unknown foreigner who, in an evening mask, might remain completely disguised.

With a claim that she needed a lie-down, Sophia left her aunt in the salon, and without being seen by the servant, slipped out of the palazzo door into the side street. Then she rounded the corner to the artist’s studio. Once there, Signor Zapetti ushered her impatiently to the screen, behind which she quickly undressed. She stepped onto the dais for her pose. The afternoon sun glanced through the wide studio windows and touched the curves of Sophia’s figure. It gilded her bare leg, and inched up her thigh as the sitting progressed.

Thank goodness it was spring, she thought, and almost shivered at the memory of standing naked on the same spot two months earlier, while rain had flung itself at the windows outside. And in May, here she was, still trying to look as if she were Diana, Goddess of the Moon. However, she could only afford to spend an hour here without discovery. Signor Zapetti knew of her circumstances and seemed happy for his muse to be available, whenever she could.

From the platform, Sophia could see the great city below. Its startling beauty never failed to enchant her. The lagoon glittered, a sharp golden contrast to the soft, misty colours of the buildings, whose panorama of domes and spires gave the scene its familiar outline. It was different to her Amersham home, where life for its inhabitants was narrow and restricted. And then there was the climate.

Even in spring, the cold weather in the Chilterns could leave frost on the roofs of the cottages, huddled together along the road that ran between London and Aylesbury. So she had longed for a change of scenery and people. The move to Italy had seemed to be a capital idea. It was to be an adventure that would free her, at last, from her humdrum life in England.

She sighed.

‘Stay still, stupid girl,’ said the artist. Then he added, more kindly, ‘I am nearly finished. Give me five more minutes.’

She was familiar with such comments. Five minutes would turn into thirty, and until the light faded, she would have to remain like a statue. But today, she thought that she might be fortunate. The artist was finishing his preparation, and hoped to start at the Villa Bellona within days. The hour should be sufficient for the work, and then she could sneak back to the palazzo.

She tried to concentrate on her rôle as Diana the Huntress, holding an intricate bow in her left hand. Her right hand appeared to be drawn forward by a dog on a leather leash. The dog, for it was real rather than a prop, had already disgraced itself ten minutes earlier. Though it had since been patient, she thought that it must surely be flagging. She glanced down. It had closed its eyes.

Finally Signor Zapetti put down his charcoal. ‘There,’ he announced, ‘you begin to be immortalized. Now go!’

The drawing was the preliminary study for artwork that had been commissioned for a magnificent palace, the home of his patron. Sophia was to be the central figure of an allegorical painting representing Night, on the wall of Count Albanolo’s dining room. Her nakedness would be very appealing to the Count’s friends and neighbours, connoisseurs of the female form, whose tastes ran to the exotic and the sensual. Their hypocrisy about art was not lost on her, but she was a pragmatist and, in any case, relished the danger of the assignment.

The artist had his back to her as he examined the sketch, and he clearly expected her to leave without further conversation. So she prodded the dog awake with her bare toes. It yawned noisily and licked its lips, gazing at her in expectation. The painter wanted her to keep it out of his way, so drawing on her clothes behind a screen, she smoothed the creases in her robe, and guided the dog down the staircase into the courtyard. The creature, a brown and white gazelle hound, had been borrowed for the occasion and would soon be collected. It seemed happy to settle onto the tiled floor in a bright square of sunlight that blazed down from the open sky, warming the spot where it curled up.

She made her way quietly through the courtyard door to the bridge over the canal and from there to St. Mark’s Square, where the famous astrological clock was chiming the hour. She looked up at the carved figures who struck the bell, and longed for time to pass more quickly. It was the week before Ascension Day, and Sophia felt a little thrill of excitement about the approaching Festival di Sensa. The costume for her planned and secret attendance at the event had been carefully chosen. It would be eye-catching enough to be seen in the crowds that would gather along the canal banks to watch the rowing competitions. It was also appropriate for attendance at one of the lavish parties that followed, and to which she had been secretly invited by one of the painter’s clients.

She considered the outfit, newly finished and now hanging on the back of her chamber door, concealed beneath other clothes. The dark green bodice sparkled with gold lace, and the colours were echoed in the mask that she had chosen for the occasion. The ensemble looked much more expensive than it was. She had developed blisters on her fingers, having painstakingly made the gown from cast-off brocade curtains, using her skill and imagination.

She justified the work in her own mind by viewing it as an investment, part of an opportunity to go to the ball undetected, and perhaps even fulfil her dreams of social advancement. The artist’s payment for her modelling had barely paid for the trimmings, but now that the gown was finished, she would ensure that every moment that she wore it would make all the effort worthwhile.

For she had no desire to return to Amersham, without having profited from her time in this great city. That return would be when her aunt, a woman of considerable fortune, but narrow tastes, grew tired of their time in Venice. No, she pictured her return home as merely a visit, part of a triumphant progress through Buckinghamshire to visit her relations, before she returned to the imagined splendour of life in some country house or palazzo of her very own, with an aristocratic and adoring husband in tow. All she had to do was give her aunt the slip, and find the right man.

End of first chapter. Available on Kindle Unlimited.

Lady Sophia-a novella

The first novel in my series, Georgian Tales, is published today on Amazon . Available as an ebook and paperback. Only 99p

The novella is the first in a series of three, chronicling the lives and romantic relationships of a group of fictional characters who live in 18th century West London. It introduces us to the young lives of a number of the characters featured in ‘Artists and Spies’ thirty years later.

The story begins in Venice in 1720 when a young woman, Sophia Pocock, travelling with her chaperone, Aunt Matilda, decides to escape from the confines of their rented palazzo on the Grand Canal on the day of the Festival di Sensa. Free for once, from the careful guardianship of her aunt, she makes two fateful decisions that will set her on a dangerous course, experimenting with the boundaries of acceptable genteel behaviour.

Henry Jenkins, meanwhile, is on the loose, in pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle. He is in the city as part of his Grand Tour after his latest misdemeanour at home. He is also in the crowd at the festival that day, accompanied by his friend James Connaught, as the pair ready themselves for the dubious delights of an evening in the company of the infamous Count Albanolo.

When the worlds of the three young people collide, their encounter will have repercussions that will follow them home and reverberate for years to come.

The novella is published today, December 4th. Lady Sophia: a novella (Georgian Tales Book 1) eBook: Stephen, Pamela: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store (books2read.com)

And Ink

My writing process begins with an ideas book. Hardback, grid pattern. Beautiful. My current book is A5 size in Royal Blue and I use the front and back for separate sets of ideas. Currently, short story plans in the front half, novel in the back. I have my favourite fountain pens too, and I like ink, a lot. I particularly like shimmer inks although I’ve learnt to be cautious with them. I don’t put them into valuable pens, because I don’t want trouble! Hence the Wing Sung purchases mentioned in my previous post. Round about the £5 a pop, and if they play up, out they go, once I’ve removed good nibs ( Sailor Music nib; Twsbi 1.1 stub)

Reds, purples and browns

My favourite of this list is the Diamine Golden Sands. It’s got a good sparkle, and is lighter than it looks here. I use it at Christmas for cards and gift tags. The MontBlanc lavender purple was bought to use in my MB Chopin, so that it gives me no problems whatsoever, and never has to go to the nice people at MB for attention. The Caroube de Chypre is lovely; a rich, very sparkly brown in a wonderful bottle. It also cost me what I think was a ridiculous amount of money, but hey ho. I bought it in Bruges and it was in short supply elsewhere, so I justified it in my own head.

Blues and Greens

The blues/ greens here are all lovely. I don’t think the image does them justice, but Emerald of Chivor is spectacular – gold highlights at the edges when there’s plenty of ink around. The Diamine, however, has touches of pink on occasions . They all behave well when you want a good ink flow, although the Herbin has flecks in it – again perhaps not one to use in a precious pen, especially a vintage one, unless you want to be cleaning it out frequently. A word of warning. The picture above illustrates the perfect storm of fat nib, flowing ink and paper that’s just about coping. So I know it’s a waste, but I tend to write only on the right hand page. In journals I use the left for illustrations, photos, occasional notes. Darker inks do show through this paper: you can’t have everything.

Fountain Pens

It may sound a bit random, but at least it’s a subject connected to writing – fountain pens. My collecting habit. It started out with one find at an antique fair. I’d done lots of homework on the internet, identifying pens I liked and thought were fairly desirable. Then I started to find them in the real world.

My first find turned out to be my best one! a 1926 Canadian Parker Duofold flattop, in lapis, blue on blue. It’s also in the most amazing condition. (And there’s a story in there somewhere) However, I discovered that I hated writing with it. It’s a huge pen and I don’t have huge hands to go with it. So I started looking for other little pretties and, sticking with Parker, came up with a whole range of Vacumatics. The nibs are wonderful, the Junior size is quite small, and some of them are very rare beasties indeed.

Here’s one I bought a few years ago, with a matching propelling pencil. It’s a Vacumatic Golden Web, and writes like an absolute dream. Another big bonus is that I have learnt how to repair them, after shelling out a small fortune on the first few I bought. They nearly always needed new sacs, and with the right pieces of kit ( Vacumatic wrench etc) can be repaired satisfactorily.

And finally, my current favourite. It couldn’t be more different from the two above. It’s a cheap Wing Sung from an internet auction site. I bought a Sailor Pro Gear a couple of years ago, and it recently started leaking everywhere. There was a huge crack in the section. But it had a very special Sailor Music nib. So I put the nib from the Pro gear into the Wing Sung ( size 5) and hey presto, it lays down a fat wet line. Fab!

Next blog – INKS!

October 7th

Thanks Tony Riches (https://tonyriches.blogspot.com/ ) for the banners that I have put on today’s blog. I’ve been kept busy lately with the promotion of ‘Artists and Spies’ on social media, including my guest spot on Tony’s blog.

So here is a link to a taster of ‘Artists and Spies’, available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon. I hope you enjoy it.

August 2nd

August already. My next project is underway, and I’ve been working hard. I’ve written a series of short stories with the hope of publication at some point in the future. Who knows?

The distractions have poured in, and writing a few hundred words a day has become much more difficult. I’ve also just read Stephen King ‘On Writing’ and found his insights inspiring. Some days I’ve felt no desire to visit a fictional world at all, and I’ve learnt that there’s is not much to be gained by forcing the issue. Much better to take the day off and admire the sunshine/ rainclouds/ etc. I’ve also discovered websites where in exchange for writing review of other people’s work, you can have your own pieces put under the microscope. It’s a whole new world (as someone once said). And finally, I’ve also discovered the wonderful website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art whose Open Access programme allows use/ sharing of all kinds of great art. Here’s an example of what I mean…..

George Romney’s portrait of the Countess of Derby. Wow! It’s inspiration enough.

July 7th

Some of my choices for stories written recently. The cover of ‘Artists and Spies’ kept bothering me; it was too generic. Then I found the painting which you can see here on the Metropolitan Museum website, copyright free. Right century, female artist with her apprentices; a self portrait by Adelaide Labille Guiard. What a beautiful image it is. So the novel creeps towards being what I want it to be.

July 1st

Looking for images of people and places to help me get into the lives of my characters, I realised that I must be a visual type of person. So I gathered together a virtual scrapbook of images which I have used to help. People, places and objects have helped me to create for myself a believable universe in which the characters can breathe. Some of my character inspirations have come from historical figures, whilst others came straight out of my imagination. Here we are

June 29th

Rules for Writing Again. The Point of View question.

I prefer to write in the past tense using a third person narrator. But I enjoy reading first person narratives. My recollection of reading and marking children’s creative writing is that they like the present tense too. But the problem is maintaining it. I think that this is where the short story format is useful. You can commit yourself to a particular point of view, for a short exercise, and if you don’t like it, you can ditch it / revise it / put to one side for as long as you like. I know that is true for any piece, but the novel is such a huge commitment that I don’t want to get it wrong as a new creator.

Of course the limitations of first person narratives are well known. When I was considering the question for my historical novel, I concluded that despite its sense of immediacy, there would have to be places where a careful digression was needed to explain the hero’s circumstances and the context of the action. Perhaps that would undo all the advantage of pace and character which I hoped to gain. So I could either 1. rely on the reader of a historical novel to have a sense of the past, 2. use what Ridley Scott called ‘Irving the Explainer’, as famously used in the voiceover version of Blade Runner, or 3. find some other way of doing it. I’m currently practising the ‘some other way’…………

June 26th

My paperback copy has come. It is smooth and pristine, just as I like my books. And this one, of course is particularly special. I think it vindicates my choices; size, paper, font. I loves books, real books.

But now that the lockdown is easing, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put my own text on the page. A short story I am writing has already taken me a couple of weeks, yet when I wrote the novel, it was 1000 words every day. The rhythm of the pace suited me, and I was fairly consistent. Now, though, I’m lucky if I can find the time to do a couple of hundred, even on a new laptop!

On the plus side, the characters in the short story are beginning to seem like they are real people, and that was a feeling I got from the previous experience. So even though they are from a past era, and make bad decisions based on values which I don’t necessarily share, I love them anyway. In fact, it is the decisions and values that make them interesting to me. I should like to collect a group of stories together as my next project, but it may take quite a while to complete. Taster of the above to come…….

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