Today it's my pleasure to be shining the debut spotlight on Annabel Fielding whose debut novel A Pearl for My Mistress was published last week.
She also posts a mix of book reviews and travel photos on her blog at http://historygeekintown.com
England, 1934. Hester Blake, an ambitious girl from an industrial Northern town, finds a job as a lady's maid in a small aristocratic household.
Despite their impressive title and glorious past, the Fitzmartins are crumbling under the pressures of the new century. And in the cold isolation of these new surroundings, Hester ends up hopelessly besotted with her young mistress, Lady Lucy.
Accompanying Lucy on her London Season, Hester is plunged into a heady and decadent world. But hushed whispers of another war swirl beneath the capital… and soon, Hester finds herself the keeper of some of society’s most dangerous secrets…
To give you a taster of A Pearl for My Mistress you can read an extract from the Prologue below which is set in London in May 1933.
'You are going to give me the keys to your holiday home?' Charity asked with disbelief in her voice. Lucy shared her perplexity.
'Why not?' Nora shrugged. 'As I've said, no one is going to live there for some time. Father and Lady Isabelle are planning to spend this autumn in France.'
Eleanor almost never spoke of anyone with open bitterness. However, Sir Frederick Palmer's second wife was never a 'mother' or even a 'stepmother' - always 'Lady Isabelle'.
'If you are sure that it will cause you no trouble...' Charity still sounded doubtful.
'Absolutely not!' Nora reached across the table to squeeze her hand. Charity flinched almost imperceptibly. Lucy could understand that - Nora was charming, but her propensity for touching people like that always came across as a little startling.
'You are an angel. I only hope the new government won't take offence at my visit.'
'Oh, that's probably the last thing you should worry about.'
'Believe me: I go to Venice every year, and I haven't noticed anything sinister so far.'
'It's not just Venice,' Charity remarked. 'The Continent as a whole is going a little wild lately. Have you heard of what happened in Germany?'
'You mean the appointment of this new Reich Chancellor? Oh, of course. I'm afraid I missed the first flurry of gossip, though,' Eleanor confessed. 'I've spend almost the whole winter on that safari, and it's not easy to keep track of Kenyan rhinoceroses and European politics at the same time. But everyone enlightened me once I came back. Some people thought it to be a great joke, and, to be honest, I agree. Wasn't he a common soldier?'
'I've heard he was a painter.'
'I thought you'd always supported the arts,' Charity teased.
'But not quite to that extent!' Nora rolled her eyes. 'We have our own fair share of lunatics, though. Look at Sir Oswald Mosley and his boys, for instance. If anything, they resemble overgrown Boy Scouts.
Lucy sat still, barely daring to breathe. What if one of the ladies turned and asked her opinion on the subject? She didn't hold an opinion on the subject. She simply knew nothing about the subject.
What would they think of her then?
They didn't ask her, though. Nor did they throw a single glance at her.
'Mosley is still bitter because the Labour Party didn't want to listen to his proposals,' Charity observed. 'To be honest, I thought he wold have calmed down by now. All these marches and chants won't get him back into power - they simply make him look ridiculous. If he was impressed by the Italians so much, she could have just taken up fresco painting.'
Breathe deeper, Lucy told herself. It isn't the end of the world. If you don't know it, you can always read about it.
'Do you know, thought that even his mistress calls him The Leader?'
'Alexandra Metcalfe?' Charity frowned. 'I thought better of her.'
'No, the Mitford girl.'
'Diana? The one who took to wearing a tiara on her neck?'
'Oh, heavens. She doesn't call him that to his face, I hope? Otherwise their nights together must be the stuff of nightmares.'
'Diana herself, clearly doesn't think so. I've heard, he is quite... Oh Charity, look! We are making poor Lucy blush!'
Never did Lucy hate her fair skin as fiercely as she did at that moment. Her fingers squeezed the dainty porcelain cup with unnatural rigidity.
How she loathed her innocence. Her inexperience. Her diffidence.
She didn't want to play the part of a timid, ignorant country girl - the role that seemed to have been assigned to her the moment she stepped into her first ballroom.
But what could she do?
'Let's not be cruel.' Charity smiled. 'We don't want the poor girl to spontaneously combust, do we? Better tell me now about your champagne safari, Nora. I've always wanted to learn about it.'
'Well, I wouldn't go quite so far as to call it a champagne safari, but it was comfortable enough. I was fortunate to find a good hunter, though. You wouldn't believe what an exhausting enterprise it all is! He helped me to manage that army of porters, servants, and gunbearers, not to mention the actual hunt, of course...'
At any other time, Lucy would have been delighted to hear the story of Nora's adventures in the African wilderness. However, now she felt a strange uneasiness, as if the sunlit brilliance of her surroundings had diminished somehow. The thoughts of Italians and Blackshirts, and Oswald Mosley with his dark uniforms and radical ideas refused to leave her mind.
I will find it all out by the time of our next meeting, Lucy promised herself. If only to understand their jokes.