Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Ottoman Harem [Part 2]

The Structure and Hierarchy of the Harem

Acquisition of Slave Girls : Young non-Muslim girls of breathtaking beauty, chosen from the slave market, were sent to the Sultan for his harem, often as gifts from his governors. These girls were usually from the Caucasus region; Georgians, Circassians, and Abkhasians. They were either kidnapped or sold by their parents. Many poor Circassian and Georgian families used to take their own children to the market, and encourage them to enter the life of concubinage, which they hoped, would promise a better future. There were also girls taken by pirates and sold in the slave markets in Istanbul; as well as girls presented as gifts by certain European ruling families. The intention here was to place a spy in the harem and to encourage the Sultan to look favourably on trading or political agreements with that country.

Admission to the Harem : Before being admitted into the harem, these girls were thoroughly examined by trained concubines (cariye) and the chief eunuchs (haremagasi) to make sure the girls had no physical defects or weaknesses. If a girl was found to be eligible, she was presented to the Valide Sultan (Sultan's Mother) for final approval.

Once she was accepted into the Sultan's harem, her name would be changed - often to a Persian one, according to her particular qualities or appearance. For example, Laligül (Ruby Rose) and Nazgül (Shy Rose) or, if a girl had charming rosy cheeks, most probably she would be renamed "Gulbahar" meaning Spring Rose.

The cariyes' courtyard, where the girls slept.

Training : These acemi (novice) girls were immediately converted to Islam and began an elaborate training in Ottoman culture, the Turkish language, and palace etiquette. After a certain period of basic training, they were called odalisk or odalik and assigned to several duties depending on their talent and beauty, and they would be supervised by trained concubines (kalfa and usta).

The word, odalisque comes from oda (chamber), and odalisque means "chambermaid". Odalisques were at the very bottom of the harem hierarchy and were not yet concubines, however, there was always a possibility that one day they could become one. They never served the Sultan himself, but rather served as chambermaids to concubines, wives, and other important royal members of the harem. Any odalisques with charm, beauty and self-confidence, would be selected to become concubines. They were taught to sing, dance, play musical instruments, recite poetry, embroider and so on.

Some of the most beautiful odalisques showing exceptional abilities, were selected to serve the Sultan in person; in other words, they were promoted to the very important position of gedikli (maids-in-waiting). They were responsible for the Sultan's ultimate comfort and relaxation. Their duties included bathing and dressing him, doing his laundry, and serving his food and drinks.

An Odalisk serves coffee to the Valide Sultan

Other odaliks were assigned to particular jobs and placed in the service of the Valide Sultan, the kadins (wives), the Sultan's daughters, high ranking cariyes (concubines), or the chief black and white eunuchs.

Note: I am indebted to Umit Sonmezler of   http://www.travellinkturkey.com/   for some of the above information.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Ottoman Harem [Part 1 ]

Cariyes - Concubines

Life in the Ottoman harem was very different from what was imagined by Europeans.  In Ottoman society, as an institution, harem life reflected the secluded privacy of family life.

The 'cariyes' served the sultan's wife or his mother. Under the guidance of the sultan's mother, they were taught to read and write, play music, and to follow the intricate rules of palace etiquette and protocol. They were trained and educated in the skills and accomplishments considered appropriate for women at the time. After 9 years in service they were allowed to marry.  Very few were honoured even by the privilege of waiting at the sultan's table, and still fewer became royal wives.  Hurrem Sultan  was a good, but rare, example of palace opportunities for cariyes.  Among the cariyes it is commonly believed that there were many in the harem from noble families of Europe. - for example:

Hürrem Sultan, maiden name 'Alexandra', wife of Süleyman the Magnificent, Ukrainian- Polish
Nur-Banu "Princess of Light" ,  maiden name ' Cecilia Venier-Baffo' , wife of Sultan Selim II, Italian
Kösem Sultan "Mahpeyker",  maiden name ' Anastasia', wife of Sultan Ahmet I, Greek
Hatice Turhan Sultan, maiden name 'Nadya' wife of Sultan Ibrahim,

Nakshidil "embroidered on the tongue " , maiden name 'Aimee du Buc de Rivery', wife of Sultan Mahmud I, French   [ this one remains doubtful, although there is some evidence that she was Aimée, cousin of Napoleon's Josephine]

An Iqbal
After nine years of service the harem girls or 'cariyes' were given their leaving document. In addition, they received a set of diamond earrings and a ring, a trousseau and some gold as their marriage portion. After the harem, their lives and well-being were closely supervised or else suitable husbands were found for them. Outside harem life, they were renowned for their good breeding and for their discretion, never being known to reveal any intimate details about the royal family to outsiders. 
Nevertheless, graffiti on the harem walls shows that not all cariyes were contented with their lot:  'Dilferib whose heart burns / Is wretched / O God / Alas alas.'

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Thanks to the Akhal-Teke

The declaration of frustration in my last post worked. Eventually, in the one-step-forward-and-two-back method, that last confrontation between hero and heroine took form and evolved into reconciliation. It took a few unusual props to get them there.

                                   The first was this magnificent Akhal-Teke horse.

The coat on this breed of horse has a bloom. As on this fine fellow, it shines so much it looks like metal. These horses originate from the deserts of Turkmenistan. Their coats act as camouflage in the shimmering desert heat. Prized for their beauty as well as their strength and skill, they are known as the Heavenly Horses.

                  The second prop was a ruby pendant, made in the Ottoman style.

And the final detail, to please other senses, was the song of the nightingales.


Friday, 11 November 2011

Slow progress

I've reached the last section of my WIP. The villains have been disposed of, the secondary plots have been wound up but the major issue remains unsolved. The hero and heroine come from vastly different cultures. Is it possible to resolve all the problems involved if they agree to marry; and do it with a light touch? Perhaps this is what is cramping my style.

Or perhaps it's because the heroine is refusing all contact with the hero at this point. This is to do with her character as much as the difference in culture. She wants total commitment but thinks he has a very lax attitude to women and to fidelity. I must have sunk myself totally into Olivia's personality, because, for the moment, I cannot work things out either.

But I will.

And that declaration of intent has got the problem down on [virtual] paper, which relieves the pressure in my mind.
Back to that last chapter. They are going to sort out their differences and find a way to live their lives together. I'm not wasting that chateau,

                                or the Pavilion on the Golden Horn.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Enjoyable research in Ariège

After months of working on my WIP, the people in it are as real for me as anyone I come across in my daily life. And my French friend, who follows the story chapter by chapter, is also as familiar with my characters as with her own family. Therefore she was delighted to assist by finding a suitable chateau to serve as the hero's family home. It needed to be in a remote region and so we agreed on the Ariège, where the people are still fiercely independent, and tolerant of religious heresy - it is the region of the Cathars.


It is also a region of caverns, stretching many miles underground to vast depths. Wall paintings from 20,000 years ago, sited well over half a mile inside, prove that these underground sites have been in use almost as long as the region has had a human population.

Grottes de Niaux


This is the region where my hero and his younger brothers and sisters grew up, with the mountain peaks all around, rushing rivers, mysterious caverns, the fiercely hot, sulphurous waters of the spa at Ax-les-Thermes, the feudal lords of Foix and Aragon dividing or uniting loyalties and politics, and the smugglers' routes criss-crossing the whole area. Plenty of scope for adventures.

Plateau de Beille

Add to this that they live in the opulent chateau visited by all the notable thinkers and artists of the 18th Century. Material here for a second story....

Small wonder that we enjoyed our research. We plan a second visit to investigate the 'Route des Contrebandiers'.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

An Eighteenth Century chateau in a romantic setting

The hero of my WIP needs a home. He is half French and half Turkish and a diplomat - he needs to be, n'est-ce pas? So, after the groundwork was done by my French friend, she and I visited the region around Mirepoix to inspect various castles. This one at Aston, is ideal for my story - my hero can have roots here and in this region he is independent of Paris, of the French kings and of Napoleon. Perfect!

And when we saw the castle, we both agreed it is perfect  as well - both for the story and as a place to visit.

This is what you see as you get close to the castle gates, climbing up from the river through the wood.

From the other side of the entrance, you see the chateau with its massive stables and what was once a paddock.

This is the view from the main gates. Currently the roof is being restored, so the grounds are overgrown.

There are mountains all around, providing a marvellous setting. The back of the chateau rises on a rocky peak, above the river. The original defensive castle was remodelled in the 18th Century into a gracious dwelling that indicated the wealth and status of its owner.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

A Regency Celebration

The RNA will be holding

a Regency Celebration

on Saturday 8 October 2011 between 9.00am-6.00pm

at the Royal Overseas League, Park Place, off St James’s Street, London SW1A 1LR (near Green Park tube station).
This event will be a celebration of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and the books they have influenced. It coincides with the launch of a new biography of Georgette Heyer, written by Dr Jennifer Kloester, and 2011 also happens to be the bi-centenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility” – both perfect excuses for a Regency themed day!
The day will be a mixture of serious talks and more frivolous activities, and will include the following:-
• Georgette Heyer, Her Life and Writing – Talk by Dr Jennifer Kloester

• Sense & Sensibility: The Things You Didn’t Know – Talk by Amanda Grange

• Austen & Heyer – Were they better than they thought they were? Panel discussion

• The Celestial Bed: Sex and the Georgians – Talk and panel discussion

• Regency Scents: Odours and Malodours – Louise Allen and Christina Courtenay “sniff-and-tell”

• Regency Clothing - Jane Walton demonstrates the fashions of the day

• Regency Dancing – Mr and Mrs Ellis Rogers take us through the steps

• Parlour Games – Learn how to play Whist, Piquet, Vingt et Un or Loo

• Regency Walk – Guided tour of St James’s

• Afternoon Tea **

(** Please note, on a first come first served basis, fifty delegates will be able to attend a special afternoon tea at the East India Club in the room where the Prince Regent was given the news of the battle of Waterloo. For everyone else, there will be afternoon tea at the Royal Overseas League.)
Throughout the day, there will be a book stall and author signings, as well as a chance to chat to authors of historical romance. There will also be a competition and a quiz, with prizes donated by the authors.
The price for the day, including a sandwich lunch, tea and coffee, is only £55 (although for those of you wanting to attend the Waterloo Tea there is an extra charge of £18). At lunchtime, there will also be a cash bar available for extra drinks.
It all promises to be a wonderful day, so please spread the word.
If you’d like to join us, please fill out the booking form below. If you have any queries, please e-mail Pia Fenton at pia.fenton@googlemail.com and you can join us on Facebook on the events page “A Regency Celebration” for regular updates.

                     Regency Celebration Booking Form 


Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Accessories for the plot: Jewellery

My heroine is in Constantinople in the year 1811. Jewellery was an age old art in the Ottoman Empire. Between her own selection and the traditional pieces the hero gives her, Olivia has many fine jewels by the end of the book.

A silver filigree and carnelian pendant
a pair of gold and diamond earrings [Top Kapi Museum ]
The Art Of Jewelry In The Ottoman Court, Gold And Diamond Earings, Topkapi Museum
a gold and diamond bracelet with an emerald [Topkapi Museum]

The Art Of Jewelry In The Ottoman Court

A hand mirror

Güherse jewellery

The term güherse refers to decoration consisting of tiny metal beads welded onto articles made of silver and gold. Güherse is a very ancient ornamental technique for metalwork, probably discovered because of the natural tendency for the noble metals to form drops when cooling from the fluid state. Mesopotamia, a region which was cradle to civilisation in many different respects, is also where güherse work was first discovered. It was in the hands of Turkish jewellers, however, that it was taken to its final stage of refinement. During the Ottoman period jewellers became so expert that today it is virtually impossible to replicate their work.
Güherse involves overcoming two major problems; the first to produce equal sized drops, and the second to weld these to the metal surface of the object. The Ottomans mastered this technique to perfection, producing beautiful works of art. [From M Zeki Kusoglu ]

The Art Of Guherse                                     The Art Of Guherse

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

This is fun! A Regency dress up doll

Regency Hero Dress Up Doll by ~savivi on deviantART

Go on, click the link and enjoy a few minutes of fun.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

A guest Blog with ARRA

Today I'm very happy to be the guest of the Australian Romance Readers Association.

Guest blogger: Beth Elliott

AUGUST 21, 2011

Finding inspiration

First I’d like to say thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. I read a number of Australian-set romance stories and enjoy learning a little about people’s lives and different areas of Australia through them.
I write tales set in Regency times. That means describing a world that has gone by, especially in terms of the social framework that people were bound by. It was a harsh era but also glamorous if you had wealth. We still admire and copy the elegant fashions of the period, and admire the wonderful architecture of cities like Bath. So there is plenty of concrete evidence to help the imagination along.
Then there is the written evidence; parish registers and so on. But it is novels like the works of Jane Austen that truly show us what life was like. As a girl I used to imagine I was one of the Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice. For me, making up a story set in the Regency era feels like going on holiday. And in fact, doing research often is the reason for a short holiday. In All Honour takes place in Bath. It was fun to walk round the city, choosing homes for the hero, heroine and villain and measuring the distance from their lodgings to the Pump Room and the Assembly Rooms. I even drank a glass of the famous waters! (Ugh!)
A visit to any museum usually throws up details of something I can put into a story. Going with a friend to a Corkscrew Museum (her idea!), I spotted an 18th Century folding corkscrew. It was made of gold and in a blue velvet case. That will make a suitable gift for a heroine to offer a hero. On a visit to Jane Austen’s home at Chawton, a member of a Regency dancing group showed us some moves from the language of the fan. So I put that into my latest story, The Rake’s Challenge. Anna learns how to send messages by gesturing with her fan. It helps her to get out of a very tricky situation.
I used London, Bath and Brighton for different adventures and also set one in Constantinople (Istanbul) and London. That was not hard because my husband was Turkish and we spent several years living in eastern Turkey. I have used that experience to help me write a couple of ‘Ottoman Regencies’. In April and May I only show the Turkish way of life as Rose, the English heroine, sees it. But in the novel I’m currently writing I have a much more exotic flavour. My heroine has ruined herself in English society and the part-Turkish hero assumes she is his for the taking. But from a very stormy beginning, they gradually learn to understand and respect each other. There are plenty of exotic episodes in this novel. All the settings are places I’ve visited and the customs are what I’ve learned of the Turkish way of life, thanks to my husband’s family.
My fourth Regency tale, The Rake’s Challenge, set in Brighton, is just out. This is about a rake who is forced to become guardian to a young lady running away from home. She is devoted to the works of Lord Byron, like her three schoolfriends; so there will have to be one or more sequels as they all pursue their hero.
The Rake’s Challenge
Giles Maltravers has his rakish lifestyle turned upside down the day he saves Anna Lawrence from a pair of drunken young bloods. The irony is that Giles is now honour-bound to protect this headstrong girl.
Inspired by a fervent devotion to the works of Lord Byron, Anna is determined to live a life of adventure, but she plunges from one disaster into another. Giles has no time left to enjoy his former carefree existence, especially when the Prince Regent decides that Anna is just in his style …
Beth Elliott grew up in a tiny Lancashire village, so needed lots of books for companionship. When not writing, she loves to travel and hopes that one day she’ll make it across to Australia. You can find out more about Beth on her website.
Beth’s books are published in hardback by Robert Hale and can be found on Amazon and at all good bookshops.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

What does it take to challenge a Rake?

Suppose you were one of Regency London's most notorious rakes; drinking, gambling, racing, having your pick of exquisite women and all to excess, when and where you wish. No matter how scandalous your latest excess is, everyone fawns on you. Bor-ing!! The pattern of your life has become too predictable....but then you chance upon an innocent girl being molested by a pair of drunken young bloods. She has no one else to help her, so you have to advise her - and dammit!! - rescue her - not once but time after time. The chit has her own outrageous ideas of living a life of adventure but she always ends up in trouble. Can't have that, by Thunder! Can it be that you have a spark of decency in you? That shocks you so much it takes a bottle or two of brandy to drown the idea. But you can't abandon your protegee...not when your mistress is out to ruin her and the Prince Regent has a lascivious eye on her.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A hidden gem

 On the northern shore of the Golden Horn in Istanbul there is a hidden gem, set in a park with rare magnolia and pine trees. Dating back some three hundred years, it was once a huge royal summer palace with balconies overhanging the water. Now there is just one pavilion left, which is still undergoing restoration. This is the Aynalikavak Kasri, the Pavilion of the Mirrored Poplars.

The dome over the main reception room indicates that it was used for official meetings. Step inside to discover an opulent and distinctly oriental magnificence. The overall effect is stunning and closer examination shows how much time and attention was lavished on the details, as in the wall panels and window decoration.


At the end of the Eighteenth century, Sultan Selim III liked to stay here. One room is called the Composition Room as he is thought to have worked on his music here.

He was a talented composer and in tribute to his contribution to Turkish music, this palace is now the State Music Museum, with a display of ancient instruments on the lower floor. There are occasionally open air concerts held here.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Refilling the well

At this time of year I slip away to Turkey to visit family and friends. The change of scene and the kind welcome is always very refreshing. It helps enormously to shake me out of a tired routine and doubts about the latest WIP.

My current WIP is set in Istanbul, when it was Constantinople. I wanted to write a story about Lady Hester Stanhope but not with her as heroine. Bit by bit the elements have come together and she plays an important role without in any way compromising her character or the events of her stay in Constantinople.

Staying with family and living in Turkish society is also providing material for background events and characters. And of course, there are the usual holiday pleasures of blue sea and sky, the fragrant pinewoods and the scent of the myrtle bushes that grow around my little house.

Time for a swim....and then tea - in a tulip glass - under the pine trees.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Sharpe Compendium • A great source of Regency era information with LOTS of Sharpe.

Regency era costumes, uniforms, weapons, transport, Army info, recipes, and lots more. All with photos galore of Sharpe and his men. Enjoy!

#The Sharpe Compendium

 • Everything you wanted to know about Richard Sharpe but were afraid to ask.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Thomas Hope & the Regency style - Victoria and Albert Museum

Thomas Hope & the Regency style - Victoria and Albert Museum


                       The conservatory steps

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Writing Awards

Thames Valley Writers' Circle is a supportive and energetic group that welcomes anyone who wants to write - in any genre and at any level. And as a bonus, we regularly invite members to contribute to an anthology which our webmaster patiently and painstakingly crafts into an attractive book.
This year our new anthology: 'Pick and Mix: a mouth-watering selection' was entered into the national competition run by Writers' News and the David St John Thomas Charitable Trust.
To our delight, it won first prize [from thirty entries]. To our even greater delight, it was also judged to be the 'Winner of Winners' overall in the competition, which consisted of fiction, non-fiction, self-published books, poetry, young adult and children's books, as well as anthologies.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Lily of the valley

In the language of flowers, the lily of the valley signifies the return of happiness. Legend tells of the affection of a lily of the valley for a nightingale that did not come back to the woods until the flower bloomed in May.

On 1st May, traditionally, women sell bunches of lily of the valley in the streets of French towns. Young men buy them to give to their sweethearts.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

23rd April : Dragons and maidens...and St George

Y Ddraig Goch
This dragon is a symbol to fire the heart of anyone with Welsh blood in their veins. Here he is "passant" in heraldic terms, signifying greeting and [maybe] welcome. Of course he welcomes you in. Why not? He can eat you later.
The Welsh dragon is a Celtic symbol of great age and its origins are lost in legend. It is said that Romano-Welsh soldiers used the red dragon on their flag in the Fourth Century. The dragon is also tied into the legend of King Arthur - his father was Uther Pendragon. This dragon is a symbol to unite people [except maybe at Twickenham for the rugby...]

What a contrast with the loathsome monster of general folklore. From all corners of the world, tales represent dragons as evil, heartless beasts, seeking a bed of treasure to sleep on. Here they will slumber for up to a thousand years. But let anyone invade their lair, and they will strike in terrible revenge, killing a village or so and carrying off maidens to devour at their leisure.

In comes St George, cast forever as the fearless slayer of dragons. In this picture, he is in time to save the maiden.  There's a story in here.

Happy St George's Day, everyone and everywhere. Let all your dragons [bar Welsh ones] be slain.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Chapter 9 - the magic chapter

It's happened again, hurrah! When I start writing a new story, I know what my characters look like and roughly how they will act. It's no good planning in too much detail, because they never stick to my original ideas. Chapter 1 is an easy one to write, setting events and relationships in play. Then things move along according to the plan - but oh, how hard it is. These people are as cold as ice, hiding all their secrets and plans. Why won't they interact with more feeling? Why are their actions so quickly told?  Where is the emotion?

I've learned to persevere, coax them all through their scenes and wait for that breakthrough.... And at last it comes. And it's nearly always in Chapter 9 that the veils fall away. They become real people, and reveal the good and bad elements to their character. Suddenly I feel part of their world and they let me join in and follow their ambitions, emotions, phobias, whatever. It's often at this point that they bring in completely new characters that I have to accept because they are obviously essential to the story.

It's definitely the point at which I lose control but as always, this is a wonderful moment.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The romantic hero and his appearance

Recently I asked in a blog discussion what a romantic hero's qualities should be. The answers came back : he should have integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, compassion, kindness. In addition he needs a sense of humour and should be fierce and passionate.

How do we picture our hero when we write or read a novel? If we give him some or most of the above qualities, do we want them to be hidden by a moody exterior or do we want our hero to stride across the pages, straight-backed, fiercely gazing at his foes or merrily facing his troubles with a carefree front? Shall we add faults, weaknesses for him to overcome, a problem with his character, an unattractive appearance or maybe an external difficulty such as poverty to test him? And is our hero aware that he is a romantic hero?

Georgette Heyer had her tongue firmly in her cheek when she wrote in 'Devil's Cub' that the prim Frederick Comyn "cherished a love for the romantic, which the Marquis of Vidal, a very figure of romance, quite lacked."

It's tricky to give a precise description of a character when you are writing a novel. We all have our own idea of beauty and want to project that onto the hero in the story we are reading. Only Colin Firth has been [almost] universally accepted as Mr Darcy.  But we're each of us entitled to draw inspiration from the type of man we prefer - and isn't it a good job we all like different physical types!!
Here are some of the guys who help me create a hero for a story.

             Guess I rather like dark hair in a hero.... but notice I put Sean Bean at the top.