The Silver Service Mysteries

Lady and her maid

"The perfect servant is the invisible one. Invisible, incorruptible! A trusted servant has access to their employer's most intimate areas of life and work. A clever servant can turn this access to great advantage..."
Mr Crichton in The Last Duchess

The Last Duchess is the first adventure of thirteen-year-old Pattern, resourceful maidservant turned Adversary of the Dark Arts. Her next encounter with supernatural skulduggery will take her to a mysterious Cornish isle, a house-party full of love-sick aristocrats, and a mistress with a sinister past. More details about The Lost Island coming soon!

Praise for The Last Duchess:

"A dreamy setting gives this unusual tale lots of appeal to readers with an affection for fairy tales ... A mystery with magic and friendship at its heart and a sharp dagger in its tail."
www.booktrust.org.uk

"A thrilling tale jam-packed with excitement, adventures and mysteries ... you are sure to love this book if you are into adventures." Kitty, age 9
www.lovereading4kids.co.uk

"I would have kept reading this book all night if it wasn't for my mum and dad." Amina, age 10
www.lovereading4kids.co.uk

Q&A

How did you get the idea for The Last Duchess?

I grew up in Wales, in a house that overlooked the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle. In one of the castle's towers there's a tunnel that takes you deep into the mountainside; you can only go part of the way, because the rest was closed off after a rock fall. As a child, I was fascinated by what might be lurking underneath...

Finding J. Bulcock's The Duties of a Lady's Maid was a real breakthrough in terms of historical research. It's an early nineteenth century guide to being the perfect servant, and though it has lots of practical advice on things like how to get stains out of linen or recipes for face cream, it's also very much a "lifestyle" guide. The writer tries to sell the idea of being a servant in terms of Christian duty, so there's lots of quotations from the Bible to support the message that if you're poor and have to work for a living, it's what God intended for you. Some of the advice is perfectly sensible, and what you'd expect to find in a modern self-help book - about having a positive attitude, being careful with money, and how to avoid being caught out by nasty gossip and negative people. But a lot of it is pretty depressing. Sample quote: "Fun is a thing that does not always lead to the best consequences, and it is possible to be very happy and cheerful without it."

What was the most interesting bit of research you came across?

I hadn't realised that children entered service so young - often as young as eight - and how much responsibility they had. An 1871 census of domestic servants in England revealed that 20% of nursemaids (who would be looking after tiny babies) were aged 15 or under, and 710 of them were under the age of ten! Life as a servant wasn't the rather jolly affair depicted in Downton Abbey; the work was utterly back-breaking, especially if you were a so-called "lower servant" who would often be doing hard physical labour from 5 a.m until 10 p.m, with only a few hours off each week. In big houses, your employer wouldn't even bother to know your name.

What kind of heroine is Pattern?

An unlikely one! She's not "feisty"; she's meek and mousy - on the outside, at least. But she's also cunning and resourceful, and not afraid to use a poker as an offensive weapon. Plus, she likes tidying and putting things in order, which is, of course, one of the things that makes her a good detective. At the start of the book, it's hard for her to break free from the idea that because she's been raised to be a servant she mustn't cause any trouble, or have any hopes and dreams other than doing her job well. But her unexpected friendship with her boss, the young Grand Duchess of Elffinberg, helps her to realise her own worth. I think it's important for readers to see that heroism comes in all shapes and forms, and that being quiet and watchful and industrious can be just as successful as being more obviously "kick ass".

Would you have been a good servant?
Well, I'm super-tidy and organised. I HATE clutter and muddle. That's definitely something Pattern and I have in common. But, like many writers, I'm also a day-dreamer and get quite flustered by small practical problems. The only time I cried at school was in my textiles class, when I got into awful tangles with my sewing projects... So no, I'd probably be stuck at the bottom, peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors for most of my working life.