Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Frog's wine, anyone?

Bingo; Blue Ruin; Blue Tape; Daffy; Diddle; Drain; Frog’s Wine; Geneva; Heart’s Ease; Jackey; Lady Dacre’s Wine; Lightning; Max; Rag Water; Sky Blue; South Sea Mountain; Strip Me Naked; White Ribbon; White Tape; White Wool.

Whatever am I talking about?

These are all 18th-century nicknames for gin. I’ve just picked some sloes and was hunting for a recipe – and inevitably got caught up with some Georgian history. I've become a little addicted to the era while I was researching the latest book, True Haven. So, here goes ...

It is commonly thought that gin was invented around 1650 in the Netherlands by Dr Sylvuis, also known Franz de la Boé. He was Professor of Medicine at Leyden, Holland, and intended this 'medicine' as a remedy for kidney disorders. He used neutral grain spirits flavoured with the oil of juniper. He called it 'genever' after the French term genièvre meaning juniper. By 1655 it was already being produced commercially and English soldiers serving in the area developed an affection for the spirit.

When William of Orange landed in England on 1688 to assume the throne, he arrived with ‘Madame Geneva’. Over the 18th century, it replaced French brandy as a popular tipple, then became a virtual epidemic. Gin excesses damaged the economy – being a cheap form of escapism for it was simple and cheap to produce. Alarmed, the government tried to quash its presence, and taxed the liquor. However, as it was often made in back rooms and illicit stills, it was hard to impose. Worse, the Act defined gin as spirits to which juniper berries had been added. Roguish producers responded by not bothering with the juniper berries at all – and the resultant raw spirit was still consumed by the gallon.

Hogarth captured the scenes in Gin Lane, from Beer Street and Gin Lane, urban desolation with gin-crazed Londoners, notably a woman who lets her child fall to its death and an emaciated ballad-seller; in the background is the tower of St George's Bloomsbury. The accompanying poem, printed on the bottom, reads:

Gin, cursed Fiend, with Fury fraught,
Makes human Race a Prey.
It enters by a deadly Draught
And steals our Life away.

Virtue and Truth, driv'n to Despair
Its Rage compells to fly,
But cherishes with hellish Care
Theft, Murder, Perjury.

Damned Cup! that on the Vitals preys
That liquid Fire contains,
Which Madness to the heart conveys,
And rolls it thro' the Veins.

It was calculated that Londoners on average were allegedly drinking up to 14 gallons of gin a year, equivalent to 10 shots a day for every man, woman and child. According to the The Guardian, harsher taxes were imposed, resulting in gangs of  informers, mob riots and lynchings.

In 1751, Josiah Tucker of Bristol calculated that the annual amount gin cost the economy was three million, nine hundred and ninety-seven thousand, six hundred and nineteen pounds, and elevenpence halfpenny. While it is a wonderful example of spurious accuracy, the round sum of four million
pounds is still impressive.

Finally, the Government saw sense. The Gin Act of 1751 slashed the excise so the situation eased. By the end of the 1750s, Madame Geneva was positively respectable.

So, why sloe gin?

If you recall your school history, it goes back to the enclosure of the countryside in the 16th and 17th centuries, when tracts of open land were carved up into smaller fields. Blackthorn was the most common hedging plant, due to its vigorous growth and sharp thorns (to keep the stock and people out).

So, sloes became widespread and country folk, finding the sloe too bitter to eat, decided to soak it in alcohol and sugar; the drink of choice at the time being gin. (Interesting to note that sloes slightly resemble juniper berries ...)

The practice was disparaged. A polemical poem on British ills from 1717 refers to beverages “... made at Home ... of Sugar, Sloes, and Grocer’s Trash” and sloe-juice and gin was described in scathing terms in 1838 as a mixture “which the inhabitants of London swallow for port”.

So, the sloes, no doubt, would have disguised foul concoctions made on the cheap. Sugar, too, was cheap, for the slave trade was at its height. It’s interesting to note that sugar consumption in Britain increased fivefold from 1710 to 1770.

Sloe gin had to wait until the beginning of the 20th century before it became respectable – and even in the US, where it’s hard to find a sloe bush, cocktails fanciers must rely on ready-made imports.

To make your own, you’ll need about 500g ripe sloes, 250g sugar, a litre of plain gin (or even vodka). Prick the berries with a needle, or freeze and crush. Pop into a jar with the sugar and the liquor.

Then wait until Christmas.

PS My fantasy novel, True Haven, is YA – so Madame Geneva does not make an appearance. However, the dastardly kalasha berries do ...

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Jane Austen was here

If you recall, I avoided Jane Austen at school. However, this is not to say I don’t love the film adaptations. Favourite of all is Lost in Austen, a quirky rethinking.

Imagine my surprise to find that Miss Austen spent a formative three weeks at Stoneleigh Abbey, just five minutes’ drive from where we live.

It is no longer an abbey, Downton fans, but a Jacobean mansion and Georgian ‘extension’ that makes St Pancras look like the corner shop. There is much that inspired the author, from the chapel, to portraits of family members and, no doubt, the fabulous grounds.

To our delight, there was ...

  • A west wing!
  • an orangerie
  • references to Bonnie Prince Charlie
  • fabulous furnishings
  • exotic chandeliers
  • panelled gentleman’s quarters
  • classic chapel
  • manicured lawns ...

I would go on, but you should take a visit for yourself. Our guide was brilliant. By the way, there are more pictures on Pinterest.

They are happy to regale you with quirky details that should appeal. The impressive facade of the West Wing was designed by Francis Smith of Warwick and dates from 1726. It’s fascinating to learn that the owners started to run out of money and decided not to panel behind the mirrors (these being less expensive than the oak).

The places simply oozes history and charm. It’s eerie that it’s been on our doorstep this whole time.

I’m already planning the sequel of  the Regency-inspired fantasy True Haven, so I know where to start.

By Pamela Kelt

Monday, 22 September 2014

Trailer time - True Haven

If you're a fan of book trailers, do pop over to the True Haven blog.

I've just completed a short video, inspired by the wonderful 18th-century frigate you see on the cover of the book.

The music is from a CC-free website called teknoaxe. It's a bit of a find, and a boon to the lowly author tasked with producing their own PR.

The rest of the images are from Wikimedia, with a little sparkly fog from thecliparchive.com.

It's always a juggling act, trying to offer some insights into the story without giving too much away!

Hope you like it.

Here's the link:https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&feature=vm&video_id=X4SaOu6_SGw

By Pamela Kelt

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

True Haven cover reveal

I am thrilled to announce the cover of True Haven. It’s a Regency-inspired fantasy adventure set for release on Friday, 3 October.

I love the fantastical blend of a mysterious vessel, ethereal clouds and two alluring moons. (Thank you, Laurence!)

Do join the online launch, courtesy of Crooked Cat Publishing.

In True Haven, a lively young seamstress escapes from a grim workhouse in the beautiful but deadly city of True Haven. Meet Claramina Dart, a young seamstress.

Independent, smart, questioning ... she adapts quickly to circumstances and uses her wits to survive.
She lives in Mudwells. Overcrowded, foul-smelling, corrupt. But it's home.

‘Mina’ has to take care of a young assistant, Barley Spindle. But then he is unfairly arrested and she steps in to save him.


They are both thrown into a workhouse far away in the city of True Haven. But Barley is ill and she realises they must both escape, for the city is not what it seems.

Elegant on the outside, True Haven is run by cruel Childmongers while the youngsters do the hard labour. Worse, there are rumours that it is infested by mysterious giant creatures that prey on the children.

After a close shave, they are rescued by Otto Karussel, a clockmaker, and discover the scale of their plight.

Despite their efforts to escape, they are swept up in even more dastardly plots and counter-plots between Mudwells and a rival city state as the ruthless Custodians of Mudwells use True Haven and Otto’s devices in a deadly struggle for power.

Nothing is quite what it seems, especially True Haven itself.

True Haven. 
Where nothing goes like clockwork ...

Intrigued? The digital book will be available on Amazon and Crooked Cat – buy links soon.

By Pam Kelt