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Anne here, bringing you Ask-A-Wench for this month, in which we're talking craft-of-writing books. There are probably as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, and in our discussion of the topic, we found the wenches vary enormously.
Mary Jo: Basically, I hate how-to-write books. In the past, I bought a number of pricey books that other writers raved about. Books that help some develop strong plots, brilliant insights, and probably shiny hair. They did nothing for me. My mind blanks. Eventually, I realized that is not how I learn. (I'm not great with expensive, highly rated lecturers on writing, either. Honestly, I have no idea how I've ever managed to write a book!)
But one book I really like is Stephen King's ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft. Probably because it's more memoir and less craft. I don't read Stephen King novels because I've never been into horror, but in this memoir, he is warm and wise and witty and very easy to relate to. He intertwines his life with his writing, and the result is fascinating and powerful. (Also short. Unlike his novels. *G*)
Nicola here. Today, as part of our Word Wench Blog 10th anniversary celebrations, we’re talking about what makes the Word Wenches such a special group to be a part of. Some of us are founder members of the blog and talk about the reasons it was set up in the first place and the ways in which it has grown and changed. Others, myself included, became Wenches along the way and joined a blog that continues to be dynamic, diverse, and fascinating, and a group of writers who are wonderfully insightful and supportive. Then there are our readers and regular blog commenters. Again, some have been with the blog since the beginning and others have joined in along the way, and together we have created what feels to me to be a special community. That’s my view of the Word Wenches, anyway – here is what my fellow Wenches have to say, plus some photos of Wenches having fun - at conferences, at weddings, with hats and even by the sea!
Ten years ago, the Word Wenches came together because our NYC traditional publishers requested that we begin interacting with our readers through social media. For introverted writers accustomed to spending all our days in our writing caves, only coming out to meet readers on special occasions, this was a huge technological and social leap into the unknown. So we banded together and held each other’s hands and took the leap. At that time, in 2006, I was finishing up the Magical Malcolm series, starting on the Rebellious Sons, writing an urban fantasy, and wishing I could publish my satirical mystery. My how time flies!
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Edith Layton, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (30)
Anne here, reporting in on my first-ever Romantic Times Readers Convention, which was in Las Vegas. I went with wenches Pat and Mary Jo -- and here we are just after our hero panel. For more about that, read on. . .
It was a huge conference —over 3,100 delegates — which is much bigger and busier than anything I've ever been to. People had come from so far away -- there was even a small group of French readers who'd come from Paris, bringing French editions of books by me, Mary Jo and others. Merci, Karen, Elodie and friends.
The hotel was also huge and spread out and just to get from our rooms to the convention area involved a lot of walking — in fact my friend Keri wears a fit-bit and she averaged 15,000 steps per day just going back and forth at the convention. The hotel even had two little indoor 8 seater shuttle buses that ferried people back and forth and they were in constant use by people who were not enjoying (or coping with) all the walking.
Nicola here, introducing this month's "What We're Reading" feature. We've had a bumper reading month on Word Wenches as a result of the holiday season and we hope you have lots of recommendations for us too, if you've had chance to read in between all the demands of the New Year! So without further ado let's turn to our reading choices.
I have a fondness for Christmas stories and over Christmas I read and reread a number of Christmas novellas, including some
collections by Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney that contained stories I'd never read. Then I embarked on a fantasy glom, Robin Hobb -- starting with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE and reading them in order up to FOOL'S QUEST. And now I have to wait for the next book to come out. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed them and have no hesitation in recommending them.
Then for a change of pace I read Kristan Higgins's ANYTHING FOR YOU, followed by a reread of some Loretta Chase reissues and a couple of Lisa Kleypas historicals, which I always enjoy.
Lastly I've just finished Louise Penny's THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. I've enjoyed all of Louise Penny's crime novels, and realized when I read this, that I've fallen behind and there are three more new ones I haven't read. A treat in store.
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 02:05 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, What we're Reading | Permalink | Comments (38)
Anne here, bringing you this month's "What We're reading" in which the various wenches share their reading picks for the last month and everyone else joins in in the comments stream. Warning, it can be quite expensive. I've already bought three of this month's books.
We start with Pat Rice, who recommends Charming by Elliott James— an urban fantasy. Pat says: "I can’t remember who told me about this book, but thank you! It’s fantasy on a level with Patricia Briggs. The characterization is amazing.
The hero is an outcast from an ancient group of Knights Templar who are under a geas to protect the veil between humans and the supernatural. Because the hero’s mother was bitten by a werewolf, he has unnatural tendencies and is despised and hunted by his father’s knights. His conflicts are manifold but his sarcasm is hilarious.
Like Briggs, this is not a bloodfest nor erotica, but a strong contemporary fantasy with a fascinating stage of characters on a vampire hunt. The action scenes are beautifully choreographed and hard to skim, even though I usually skim violence the same way I do sex scenes. If you can handle another vampire hunter, check this one out."
Susan here, and today the Wenches answer a question we asked ourselves. We're all historical fiction writers, with plenty of variation -- Regency, Georgian, Victorian, Tudor, medieval, romance, mainstream, fantasy, paranormal, mystery -- more than one of us has dabbled in writing contemporary settings too.
So we got to talking, as we do, and the question came up --
Why do we write historicals? Some of us write contemporary too. Why or why not, and what's the difference?
I write anything that strikes my interest. I started in historical romance because those were the books I knew and loved, and because history fascinates me. I’d spent years researching English history simply to better understand the English literature I was reading. And since I lived in an area with a wealth of history, writing about that area gave me permission to waste more time digging through old books and visiting historical sites. I adored—and still adore—being able to combine work and play.
But there are some stories that simply don’t fit easily into a historical perspective. I wanted to address current issues, current situations, and to do that, I started scribbling on my contemporary romantic mysteries. Again, I got to explore Santa Lucia and California and other wonderful areas to research my stories. Writing about mental health or the environment or computer hacking just doesn’t fit into historicals!
And then, of course, there are the paranormals… but I digress. It happens—a lot.
Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:
The great children’s author/illustrator Maurice Sendak was once asked why he wrote what he did. His answer (I am taking artistic license and paraphrasing) was, “I would love to write the Great American Novel, but when I sit down to tell the story in my head, it comes out as a pig talking to a dog who has just swallowed a mop.” I feel a little like Sendak—my stories just seem to take shape as historicals. I’ve always loved the history, and find it fascinating to explore a time period in the past and learn about all its nuances. I think one of the things I find appealing about historicals is that even when you have collected a lot of research facts, you have to use your imagination to piece them all together. (I tend to have a very vivid imagination.)
I haven’t yet written a contemporary. (Well, actually I have, a long time ago, but it’s one of those “Back-Of-The-Desk-Drawer” manuscripts that will remain buried under stray chewing gum warppers and paper clips.) Which doesn’t mean I won’t. In fact, I’m currently noodling on an idea that involves a contemporary setting. It’s early yet, and I’m still not sure whether the Muse and I are on the same page. But it’s fun to try something new, even if it ends up in the desk
Why do I write historicals? Because I read them, of course! I read a lot of other things as well, including non-fiction history, but I was addicted to Georgette Heyer and chomped through all the modern Regencies at the library when I discovered them. So when I bought my first computer and decided to see if I could write a book, what came out was a Regency.
The Muse has wandered into contemporary and fantasy over the years, but I always come back to historicals. I love the way stories can be over the top and characters larger than life, and history provides such nice conflicts. In other words, historicals are fun!
Posted by Susan on Friday, October 16, 2015 at 01:44 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Ask-a-Wench, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Writing Topics | Permalink | Comments (24)
Anne here. Over the past week or so, on our private loop, we wenches have been discussing various aspects of our writing processes. Writing goes through dips and troughs, periods of intense creativity and periods of fallowness, where we have to force ourselves to get words on the page, and I thought the collective wenchly wisdom of our discussion was worth sharing.
The discussion started when I related an anecdote about a friend of mine who writes--and writes well--on trains (and I'm not talking about grafitti.) In a 90 minute return trip on the train, she regularly writes around 3000 words.
One of the wenches replied: I can do 3,000 in three hours when I'm on a roll. It's clay. Sometimes good clay. Sometimes junk. It's the way I write, and clearly I can't do 3,000 publish ready words in 3 hours, or doing that daily would result in a 90K book a month. Mine take most of a year. We all have our different processes.
(Anne again: I'm not going to label who said what, just change color each time it's a different person. And though there are eight people in this discussion, using eight different colors would look silly, so there are just two. So forget about trying to work out who is saying what — on with the discussion:—
True about processes. But I seem to labor so hard to get words on paper. The only good news, is the words tend to be fairly well formed. But I’ve been thinking that getting the clay out faster, then shaping, sculpting, would be a better process. Not sure I can change, but I’d like to.
Celebrate! Our Word Wenches blog is NINE years old this week!
In blog years, that’s … well, since May 22, 2006, we’ve written nearly 1500 blogs, if you do a little math (and we prefer to do only a little math). Consider us wise and Wenchly after all those years and blogs, and very pleased to still be blogging strong. We’re especially pleased and very grateful that you, our blog readers and friends, have been so loyal and such fun over the years!
We’re celebrating with virtual cake and candles, balloons and prezzies – in the form of a great giveaway contest that you can all enter (see details below)! We’re also celebrating with a look back at our very first books – the book that started it all for each of us, taking us by different paths to the Land of Word Wenches, where we indulged our mutual love of history and historical fiction—and found that one of the secrets to a long-lived blog is friendship (along with the ability to go with the flow and be real chill about details, and we’re all pretty good at that)!
Here’s a look at the first books we ever wrote – Part One.
Look for Part Two of our Anniversary Celebration on Friday!
The book that set me on the path to Wenchland was originally called Love’s First Surrender, published by Kensington in 1984. I had just graduated with an accounting degree, was living in a small town that wasn’t fond of the idea of female accountants, and for the first time since I was fourteen, I wasn’t working or going to school or both. I had time to watch my toddler race around the driveway on his Big Wheel, but I was bored out of my skull. I like working. I couldn’t afford to buy books, so I wrote my own. I wrote several, actually, but Surrender is the one I deliberately tried to write to fit the sexy historical romance market of the time. I’d never had a writing class, didn’t know RWA existed, had no notion of how to get published except from Writer’s Digest. But I figured I had to do something to make money if I couldn’t find a job, so I dedicated toddler nap times to writing a sexy historical in long hand in a Walmart notebook. Once I had a complete draft, I bought a used Underwood typewriter and typed it all up. Those were the days of carbon copies, white-out, and boxing 500 pages to ship via snail mail with SASEs inside. I quickly learned to just send the first fifty pages!
And lo and behold, I got The Call the same week I was hired by two Baptist deacons as an accountant. Sometimes, we get what we wish for—and it only makes life more complicated!
Nicola here, introducing this month's What We're Reading blog. As ever, the Wenches have been reading some very interesting books and we're keen to hear what you think and what your recommendations are too!
This month I’ve been catching up with some of the books that were shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee was a finalist in the short romance section and is a powerfully emotional Regency historical that had me gripped. There was amazing chemistry between the heroine, Emma, and Ned, who was one of the most attractive heroes I've read in a long time.
Another fabulous read was Struck, by Joss Stirling, a YA romance with a great crime mystery thrown in as well. It takes place in an exclusive English boarding school where scandal and corruption lurk behind the ivy-clad walls. The author mentioned that she had modelled the hero, Kieren Storm, on a young version of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock. Raven Stone, the heroine, is a gutsy American girl you can really root for. It’s a great read!
Finally the reburial of King Richard III prompted me to reach yet again for The Daughter of Time by
Now over to the other Wenches!
I like to explore new-to-me authors, but I’ve been having a bad reading month and haven’t found anyone exciting lately. So I’ve fallen back on favorites. I finally read Patricia Brigg’s Night Broken, one of her Mercy Thompson novels. I love her urban fantasies because they’re so human! The book is as much about Mercy dealing with her husband’s charming but manipulative ex-wife as it is about finding the vengeful ancient-god stalker who followed the stupid ex straight to Mercy’s home.
And then I picked up Angie Fox’s newest series starter—Southern Spirits. If you’ve ever read Angie, you’ll recognize her voice, although this time she’s writing a mystery about ghosts instead of chasing demons. Small southern town seeped in legends and history, a bootlegger ghost to help the heroine out, and a hunky cop to get her into trouble—can’t ask for more!
This month I read a book recommended a little while ago here -- Imperfect Chemistry by Mary Frame. It was as enjoyable as said, with a geeky prodigy deciding to become more "normal" by going after her sexy neighbor. I think this is what's called New Adult fiction, about people in their early twenties who are very much of today's world.
I also read Fledgling, by Sharon Lee and Stever Miller, a Liaden novel I'd missed. It has some similarities to Imperfect Chemistry, though the protagonist is younger. Theo too is a clever misfit, but this is really an Ugly Duckling story. The Liaden books are space opera, with multiple worlds lived on by humans -- and some others -- all with different social structures. In Fledgling, having to move to a different world leads to Theo's transformation, both on the journey and when there. It's a good read, and the e-book is still free.
Mystery! Well, that is, it’s probably no mystery by now that I love the genre, and this month I’ve been really immersing myself in in both new and classic reads. A friend got me watching the BBC series Sherlock (hard not to like Benedict Cumberbatch) , which I enjoyed very much—but it suddenly occurred to be that I had never read the original Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes books. (How did that happen???) So off I hurried to the library, and I have been enjoying the tales very much. I enjoy the writing style, and the development of Holmes and Watson, who’ve inspired so many subsequent detective pairing. And while the plots may not be as complex, dark and twisty as modern novels, they really are great fun.
I’ve also been enjoying a modern take on historical mystery. I’m a big fan of the Regency-set Sebastian St. Cyr books by C. S. Harris, and the latest release, Who Buries The Dead, is a wonderful addition to the series. Gritty and layered with well-rendered psychological portraits of Sebastian, Hero and all the people who make up their world, the books use the crime of murder to delve into far deeper questions about society, power and influence in Regency London. The stories are taut with suspense, and really make for a riveting read.
Like Pat, I'm going to talk about a Patricia Briggs book. Pat's choice, Night Broken, is part of the Mercedes Thompson series. I read the book when it came out, and l loved it. The heroine, Mercy, is a coyote shifter in a world of werewolves, vampires, fae, and much more, and there's a great romance.
Briggs has another series set in the same world. Alpha and Omega features a pair of mated werewolves: Charles, a half native American enforcer is the Alpha, and Anna, an Omega whose presence soothes other werewolves, and who is immune to Alpha control.
I've always preferred the Mercy Thompson books, until now. Dead Heat, the latest Alpha and Omega
book, is every bit as good as a Mercy story. It begins when Charles and Anna take a holiday, leaving the werewolf home in Montana to visit an old friend of Charles' in Arizona, and also to buy Anna a horse since the old friend is a horse breeder. Things Happen and there is much excitement. There is also lots of information about Arabian horses since Briggs raises them herself and has clearly been pining for the opportunity to write about them. <G>
But the heart of the story lies deeper as Anna and Charles deal with a significant issue in their marriage. There is also a theme of what it's like to be virtually immortal while those you love grow old and die. It's all worked out in a wonderfully satisfactory way!
On the non-fiction front, I want to recommend journalist Gail Sheehy's memoir, Daring: My Passages. Sheehy has been a groundbreaking journalist and feminist from the 1960s onward. Her 1976 book Passages was a huge bestseller that changed the way people thought about growth and change throughout one's life. Her 1993 book The Silent Passage was another game changer as it pulled menopause out of the closet into the light of day.
And in Daring, she has written the story of her life and challenges. The ups and downs, the struggles of a single mother to work while caring for her beloved daughter, a tempestuous affair that eventually became a devoted marriage--she has lived a remarkable life, and she writes really, really well.
I'm reading just about nothing since I'm absorbed by the Work in Progress. But I've indulged myself in
Grace Burrowes' The Traitor. It's one of those 'Come for the Romance, Stay for the Sharp Character Analysis' books.
The hero, Sebastian, is half French, half English when France and England are locked in war. The book explores hard choices a man makes and how he lives with them.
Next up, I go to a favorite author of mine, Anne Perry, and Callander Square — a Victorian-set mystery. Well-born Charlotte and her Police Inspector husband set about solving crime among the stuffy rich. I haven't read this series in order myself, but you might want to start with the first in the series, The Cater Street Hangman.
I too have been reading mysteries, including Alan Bradley's latest in the Flavia De Luce series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. Once again the intrepid, clever Flavia ferrets out secrets in a witty and brilliant way with a touch of vulnerability and sensitivity quite natural to an 11-yr-old, even if her chemistry genius is off the charts. This time, Flavia is packed off to a girls' school in Canada to face a whole new location and complete strangers, and though I thought that leaving her home of Buckshaw in the English countryside would eliminate a crucial setting character in the series, Bradley does a fantastic job of creating a new environment and drawing his reader in. Flavia is one of my favorite sleuths, a blend of whimsy and genius, Pippi and Sherlock. And Bradley's books are an exception for me--I always listen to them in audio. Jayne Entwistle's narration is flawless, whimsical, clear as a bell, and she creates the perfect evocation of Bradley's books. I highly recommend both the written and the audio -- do check out Flavia!
I've also returned to the Laurie R. King series of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. In The Moor (and yes, I have a long way to go to catch up to King's newer Russell novels!), Russell and her husband, Holmes, are in misty, ominous Dartmoor investigating a death with some very creepy circumstances, a riveting return and intriguing take on The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Russell-Holmes books are so smart and beautifully written that I keep coming back. I should add that I've never been much of a series reader, more of a series grazer in every genre, but these two mystery series--King's Russell and Bradley's Flavia--totally capture my attention!
A friend recently gave me Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, who is her favourite author, and I have to say I’ve loved it. I haven’t quite finished Winter Solstice, but I’ve already bought Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers, Going Home and September. For some, the books might be a little slow-paced and perhaps even old-fashioned, but I’m really enjoying the slow reveals, the wonderfully detailed settings and her well rounded and appealing characters. I can’t put it down. And by the way, Winter Solstice seems to be very cheap on kindle at the moment.
On a completely different note, I’ll also add that I fully endorse Pat and Mary Jo’s recommendations of Patricia Briggs. They mentioned her books to me some time back and I ended up glomming the lot.
So there are a few of our reads for the month of March. Have you read any of these books? Thoughts? And do you have any recommendations for the Wenches?
Anne here, hosting our monthly feature "What We're Reading"
We'll start with Jo Beverley, who says: I recently dived into my keeper shelves, and I've been re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. I used to read the whole series frequently, but I haven't for a while now and I decided it was time. Six big books and not as much reading time as I used to have, but I'm enjoying them tremendously.
For those who don't know them, they're based around a central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scotsman whose adventures we follow around Europe and up into Russia in the mid-16th century. The books are about him, but stretches are about other important characters and from other points of view and the plots involve most of the significant historical characters and events. The Tudors, the de Guise, Ivan the Terrible, Suleiman the Magnificent, Nostrodamus!
Despite being all about him, we're only in his point of view once, so our picture of him comes through the view of others, which I think is key to the fascination Lymond holds for many. We have to learn him as we learn people in real life -- from the outside. I'm not aware of anyone else having written about a series character in that way and it was daring for sure back in the '60s.
Hi, here's Jo (with a pic of Charlie Dracula) putting together the Halloween blog. The Wenches got talking about scary stuff. Turns out, none of us like to read or watch anything that scares us, though some of us did when young. Perhaps it's because our writers' imaginations make imaginary horrors too real? We even have a real ghost story to tell.
I hope that you'll share your thoughts about scary books and films, and especially any real ghost stories if you have any!
I'm among the wimps who can't read or watch horror. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane freaked me out at a very early age, and I never could watch an entire episode of Hitchcock's The Birds even on a small B&W TV. I loved Poe's poetry when I was a kid...but that was poetry. How could bad things happen in rhyme? I don't watch TV shows with violence and suspense, and I don't read horror and thrillers even now. They literally give me nightmares.
I think my aversion to all things scary is because we live in a scary world. Reading the newspapers is difficult enough without imagining worse. And that might be another key. I can imagine far, far worse than what I read in the papers, and I can "see" the events in a horror novel as if they're real. I just don't need those images in my head!
As many of you know, I’ve been published in historical romance since 1984. I’ve written westerns, Americana, Victoriana, Regencies, and paranormal historical romance well before any of those genres became popular. Historical romance has cycled through variations of these sub-genres over the last three decades (three decades—oh my! Obviously, I wrote my first book as a teenager), and to speak frankly, the lords and ladies required of today’s historical romance need a lot of creativity to keep fresh. (Working with a younger sons’ theme rather than dukes and earls, I published my last Regency novel, Notorious Atherton, in July 2013. Formidable Lord Quentin will be out 3/31/15.) I’ve always interspersed my historical romance writing with other genres to prevent becoming too jaded, but now I have to go further and further afield to keep my imagination entertained.
Anne here, answering a question asked by several people — do you keep anything special on or near your desk? We do, and we've decided to make it into a little fun competition, so you need to match description A, B, C, D, E, F and G with Wenches Mary Jo, Jo, Pat, Cara/Andrea, Susan, Nicola and me.
(**Post script: Alas, nobody guessed correctly, it was obviously harder than we thought. For the curious, the answers have been posted in the comments stream.)
A) North Carolina sand dollars from an author friend back in Charlotte, an ugly garden troll my Irish mother adored, and a mannikin from one of my St Louis buddies to dress up or down or let scream at the Forces. Special memories that have survived various moves…
B) Lamb Chop, the adorable white stuffed lamb on the printer is from New Zealand--Rotorua, to be exact. She fell in love with Wellington, the koala puppet who is cuddling her. It's like one of those war bride romances where she forsook all she knew to go with her true love. When they aren't cuddling, they like to argue the merits of their respective homelands. For example, which country has the best glowworms???? Sometimes I hear them giggling together in the middle of the night…
Anne here, hosting the June edition of What We've Read this month.
Pat's up first: Unlike other authors who say they can’t read what they’re writing, I tend to read a lot of what I’m writing because it puts my mind in the right groove. If I’m in a romance groove while reading a mystery, it can get messy. Heroes may die. So I’ve been in a mystery frame of mind lately.
I can’t remember if I mentioned Patrice Greenwood’s A FATAL TWIST OF LEMON that I finished a few weeks back. This is a very pleasant, laidback cozy set in an old house turned into a tea room in Santa Fe. There’s a small romance and bits of history and it’s just a lovely book for kicking back on a lazy day.
I just finished Donna Andrews’ A MURDER HATCHED, which is more of a riotous circus compared to Greenwood’s proper tea party manners. The heroine is maid of honor in three different weddings in a small town, so we have a three ring circus even before people start getting snuffed. Luckily, her love interest is running the local bridal shop for his mother. Unluckily, she thinks he’s gay, despite all evidence to the contrary. No real dark moments and lots of laughter, so another good summer read.
Anne here, introducing the second part of our 8th Anniversary celebration, where we look back over a few favorite posts from the past eight years. The first part was here. In this thrilling episode, Pat Rice talks about getting naked (yes more nakedness!), Susan King expos—er, reminisces about where we work, Mary Jo gives the inside skinny about wearing Regency-era corsets (a post much beloved of German corset fetishists), and finally I wrap up with a little bit of down-under culture in the shape—the very fine shape—of Australian Rules footballers.(The photo below is from this site)
And finally, I list the books we're giving away to eight lucky commenters — one book each.
We'll start with Pat:
Like Jo, I think there’s no better way of celebrating the Word Wenches’ survival of eight years of blogging then with our Getting Naked blog. If nothing else, the “naked” blog was a metaphor for how such different writers could strip down to their souls and reveal themselves in public. Writers are intensely private people, and presenting our thoughts for public consumption was a fascinating and terrifying new idea to us at the time.
Posted by Anne Gracie on Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 11:15 PM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (60)
For many of us, February can mean more snow than we ever want to see again (just yesterday we got over 20 inches in our part of Maryland) . . . it also means Groundhog Day (he was so right this time) . . . and Valentine’s Day.
Despite its origins as a religious nod to Saint Valentine’s generosity of spirit, over time Valentine’s Day has become all about hearts, flowers, chocolate and sweet little candy hearts – and all about romantic sentiment. Although it’s commercialized and may raise expectations beyond the pale, it’s also, at its best, a day to remember that true love and romance, whether or not it has its very own day, is worth celebrating.
What do the Wenches recommend this Valentine’s Day? MOVIES! Great, romantic, snuggle-up, pass the popcorn and unwrap the chocolate, movies! There’s something especially wonderful about a feel-good, quality romance on the screen that can put a smile on your face and a glow of happiness in your heart. We've listed some of our favorites here for you - and we hope you'll do the same for us in the comments section.
As we tossed around some movie suggestions, a few clear favorites quickly emerged among many great choices. Here are our top picks: romantic-themed movies that have something truly special – stories, characters, extraordinary moments that just make us want to rewind and watch over and over.
The Word Wenches Top Picks for Most Romantic Movies Ever (in no particular order, though the first one was unanimously popular!):
Ladyhawke – Rutger Hauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick. A lady and a knight are under an evil magic spell that keeps them forever apart, night and day—until a thief and a priest try to break the spell.
Pride and Prejudice – Keira Knightley and Matthew McFadyen… An exquisite feature film of Austen’s novel – and also the Colin-Firth-as-Mr.-Darcy multi-episode series – we love both versions, because who could pick?
Love Actually -- Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman and others … A great, funny, touching romantic comedy about several separate yet ultimately connected love stories set in London at Christmas.
Shakespeare in Love -- Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes … A noblewoman falls in love with the stage - and with a playwright who has an idea for a tragic romantic play. . .
First Knight – Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Sean Connery … A beautiful retelling of The Knight of the Cart and a believable love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere
Read on for our thoughts about these incredibly romantic and enjoyable movies – as well as some other truly wonderful movies that we think deserve special mention on this Saint Valentine’s Day. How do these movies work their romance magic and capture what the essence of romance on the screen?
Posted by Susan on Friday, February 14, 2014 at 02:15 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Ask-a-Wench, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Film, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Television, Writing Topics | Permalink | Comments (24)
Anne here, hosting the WWR discussion for this month. We've got a wonderful selection for you — varied as usual, with some great recommendations. I don't know about you, but these discussions always end up with me ordering more books. I'd also remind you that these are books we're genuinly reading and enjoying — there's no "promotion" happening here.
Pat Rice said: I didn't have much time for holiday reading but my latest favorites are Ilona Andrews CLEAN SWEEP, the start of a series set in Texas but with interplanetary beings occasionally dropping in. Our heroine owns a B&B for them, and her hunky neighbor turns out to be an alien species of werewolf. Love the humor and the characters.
I also finished a boxed set of Ashley Gardner's Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries, which have been recommended here from time to time. Love the way she uses the setting to enhance the character and the mystery.
And for a bit of whimsy, D.E. Stevenson's MISS BUNCLE'S BOOK about an early twentieth century English village. It's a mystery, but the characters are beautifully drawn and the whole thing works better than an Agatha Christie, and there's even love and romance!
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
From the Word Wenches to you -- happiest of new years, and may 2014 be a happy, healthy, prosperous and incredibly wonderful year for you and yours!
Today is a stellar day in more ways than one – there’s a New Moon (at 3:14 a.m. PDT this morning) – the first time in a long while that this has occurred on New Year's Day. Considered a perfect time to make a fresh new start in any or all areas of your life, the New Moon -- especially on New Year's!-- is a time to make a wish and set your intention in your mind, and then celebrate it and give it some extra fairy dust by writing it down, lighting a candle, or doing something else to mark the occasion and the wish in any way that has personal meaning for you. Will the New Moon on New Year’s Day double your luck? Maybe! It’s definitely auspicious.
An auspicious something that invites good fortune into your life at the start of the New Year is welcome in everyone’s life today and every day – so I’ve compiled a list of some very auspicious things you can do on New Year’s Day. Try some of these, and may the luck of the new year be with you!
Historically, Babylonians, Romans and people of every era and culture marked the first day of the new year with prayers and promises and pledges to the gods. The Babylonians promised to return farm tools and cattle and pay their debts – always wise! – and the Romans looked to the god Janus for signs of good luck, and in the medieval era, vows and prayers, charms and portents (such as balancing a tea cake on a cows' horns to see which way it fell) were especially important on the first day of the new year. Whether Roman or Gregorian, Aztec, Jewish or Chinese, a calendar turns over on a special day, and whether the new year begins in January, February or March, a new year is a new year – and that all-important, symbolic, fortuitous first day offers a great chance for everyone to start again.
New Year’s Resolutions historically trace back to prayerful promises, vows and atonements in earlier societies. Now many still do the same, including making resolution lists of goals and changes we want to meet and make, and most will try to honor them for as long as they can manage. Make ‘em or break ‘em, love ‘em or not, resolutions are useful for some -- if a bugaboo for others.
The First-Footer – this is an old Scottish custom which also occurs in Northern England, and the Greeks have their version, too. After Hogmanay—New Year’s Eve—in Scotland, the first person to set foot in the home after midnight on New Year’s can bring good luck…or not-so-great luck to the household. The Scots regarded the very best of first-footers to be a tall, dark-haired, handsome man (who wouldn’t!) – and a red-headed man or woman the worst luckbringer (apologies to all the lovely gingers among us!). This was probably because, early on, a dark-haired guy was more likely to be a trustworthy Scot, and a redhaired guy more likely to be an unwelcome invader, whether Irish or Viking. So open your door to guests and ask the dark-haired ones to cross the threshold first, and be sure to welcome the others as well, we’ve all evolved, after all. ;) (My novella in Christmas Roses, “The Snow Rose,” is a story of what happens on New Year’s Day to one lonely Scottish lass when a handsome dark-haired first-footer arrives unannounced – and unwelcome, at least at first!)
Black-eyed peas – whether in soup or as a side dish, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is very auspicious in the States, and particularly so in the South, where some families I know cannot imagine New Year’s Day without a fresh batch of nicely seasoned black-eyed peas and greens. The dish is particularly lucky with greens, or with rice, corn, ham – a very pretty and tasty dish. The tradition in the States may go back to Jewish immigrants arriving in the Colonies in the 18th century, bringing an ancient Jewish custom here. Tradition also claims a link to the Civil War, when the Yankees destroyed nearly everything in some areas, leaving only the black-eyes peas untouched in the fields, thinking them fit only for animals. Some Southern families survived on the peas, cooking them with greens. Also – beans represent coins and greens represent greenback dollars -- so cook up some lucky black-eyed peas today!
If you are into feng shui or want to give it a try on this important day – there are some actions you can take to make Good Fortune feel welcome in your home for the new year. For example –
Clean and declutter your home – this is best done before New Year’s Day, so if you did, excellent! If not, do not clean on New Year’s Day, or you could sweep good luck away – and you may declare that you’ll be working all year. Wait a day – you’ll still get a fresh new energy start early in the year.
Bring fresh flowers and/or a healthy new plant into your home to symbolize and stimulate new growth in your life. Certain plants represent certain things - a jade plant supposedly attracts money, a peace plant family harmony, and so on.
Wear RED today! Red is often considered lucky, especially on New Year's Day.
Roll nine oranges over the threshold into your house. Oranges are considering lucky, and their warm golden color represents gold and prosperity – and here it comes rolling into your house! Toss some coins inside with the oranges while you’re at it to welcome in good luck as well as money. Then, if you have some orange essence, spritz this around your entry or foyer area to cleanse the old energies and freshen up the new. And be sure to put some oranges in a bowl on your kitchen table for another auspicious touch.
Scatter nine (or 27, some say) coins (Chinese coins or your own denomination) under your front door mat to welcome money into your home.
Find a bell or a chime (or a singing bowl if you have one) and go around to the four inside corners of your home (the four main corners of the house, or the four corners of your living room will do too) – and ring the bell, letting the sound ring and fade out nicely. This is a great way to energetivibrationally clear the air and sweeten your home's energy at the start of the new year.
Then, when all that's done - find some paper and your favorite pen or your favorite journal and write down your wishes for the coming year -- and may they all come true!
Cheers to the New Year! Wishing peace, happiness and prosperity in 2014 – for the Wenches, for our readers, and for the world.
Do you have any favorite New Year's traditions? Anything that brings good luck is more than welcome! Please share!
Posted by Susan on Wednesday, January 01, 2014 at 03:14 AM in Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Guests, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Sherrie Holmes, Sparky, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Writing Topics | Permalink | Comments (7)
Anne here, announcing the winners drawn from the comments on our 7th anniversary post. They are Liz V. from the USA, Sarah M. from Germany, and Valerie L. from Australia. I'll be contacting each you for a postal address.
Thank you to all those who left comments. It was so heartwarming to see posts from so many of our long time wenchly readers, as well as relative newcomers. The wenchly community is a very special one, and we're delighted you keep coming back and contributing to the discussions.
Before I was a word wench I was a wenchly reader myself, and one of the things I always liked about the WordWench blog was the quality of discussion in the comments stream. I'm so pleased that's still going strong. Thank you all.
Anne here, hosting Ask-A-Wench for this month and today the question we're answering is "What are your 'comfort reads?' — the books you turn to when you're ill or tired, or it's a cold, wet, miserable day and you want to curl up with an 'old friend' of a book. This question sparked a conversation between the wenches, as we went back and forth talking of this writer and that.
In general, my comfort reads tend to be writers like Georgette Heyer and Eva
Ibbotson. I really enjoy plunging back into those familiar worlds and revisiting beloved characters. I still get a chuckle out of Ferdy and Gil and the Nemesis discussion in Friday's Child, or the Pel and Pom conversation in the street, followed by the search for Pom's aunt's brooch in The Convenient Marriage.
I ache for the noble heroes in Eva Ibbotson's stories and cheer the heroines on, and smile knowingly to myself when Guy Farne arranges a proper haircut for the heroine in Magic Flutes, or Rupert in The Countess Below Stairs forbids Anna to cut her hair because he "must have something." It's all about subtext in those books.
I've also reread Linda Howard's McKenzie's Mountain a heap of times, Elizabeth Lowell's medievals and Amanda Quick/JAK's stories. But I also enjoy non-romantic reads, like Dick Francis's crime books — Whip Hand is a favorite, as is Decider, and also Risk — most of them, really. And occasionally I'll turn to P.G.Wodehouse or Terry Pratchett for a chuckle. I reread a lot — books for me are like old friends and I like to revisit those worlds and characters.
Joanna said: When I'm troubled, I'll go to mysteries. The intellectual puzzle and the certainty of a solution comfort me. Agatha Christie. Patricia Wentworth. Dorothy Sayers. Or any of the recent cozy mystery writers. And C.S. Harris who writes mysteries set in the Regency period. I also have a particular fondness for C.S. Lewis' Narnia series and the books set in the land of Oz. Nothing really bad can happen in those countries. Nora Roberts gives me this same assurance in her Romances, especially the fantasy, magical ones. Sometimes we need a vacation from reality.
Cara/Andrea: I definitely have "go-to" comfort reads. Mary Stewart is a real favorite, especially The Moonspinners and This Rough Magic. I also adore Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series, with Crocodile on the Sandbank and Children of the Storm, my top picks. And then there is, of course, Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion always soothe the soul.
Anne poking nose in again: Ohh, yes to Mary Stewart as a comfort read. My faves are Madam Will You Talk and Nine Coaches Waiting. I have a theory that every romance writer who's ever written a hero called Raoul is a Mary Stewart fan. There are those of us who write Regency era where it's difficult, but I suspect Joanna could fit in a Raoulish hero... And I adore Peabody and Emerson in Crocodile on the Sandbank.
Susan agrees: My favorite comfort read by far is Mary Stewart -- though a favorite book within that group of favorites isn't easy to choose! Moonspinners, Wildfire at Midnight, My Brother Michael -- The Gabriel Hounds — I love them all. When I'm laid up with a cold or flu, or if I really need an escape, I go straight to the Mary Stewart shelf. As a reader I'm comforted, and as a writer, I learn something with every reading about lyricism, description, subtle characterization, and understated, compelling heroes.
Other comfort reads — Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels; Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time; Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale; and my comfort-classic is Jane Eyre. A comfort read for me is a novel that brings back that first, fresh feeling of discovery and joy in story and voice, helping me feel good no matter what.
Mary Jo said: When I'm stressed out on deadline and need to read something familiar and beloved, my default is SFF: Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, especially MEMORY, KOMARR, and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN. Her CURSE OF CHALION — love, love, LOVE that story.
Sharon Shinn's Thirteen Houses series, especially READER AND RAELYNX. Catherine Asaro's Skolian series, especially SPHERICAL HARMONICS (which I just reread, as a matter of fact.) All strong stories with strong characters and satisfying endings. But reading all these comments is making me want to reach for a Mary Stewart! It's been too long since I read MADAM, WILL YOU TALK.... and THE IVY TREE. Sigh.....
Pat said: I'm probably not a good person for the comfort read blog. The only book I've ever re-read is Pride and Prejudice, because I read it first when I was very young and needed to refresh my memory. There are just way too many new books to drool over for me to be tempted to go back to something where I have some chance of remembering how it ends.
Jo Beverley said: Comfort reads come in two categories for me. One is the old favourites that are guaranteed to take me to familiar content. Heyer is in there, and in a recent re-read I particularly enjoyed The Reluctant Widow. Like Mary Jo, some SF and fantasy fits. I too love Bujold's Curse of Chalion. My favourite Asaro is The Last Hawk. I have some Sharon Lee and Steven Miller favourites, and one of those is Local Custom. Very much a romance, and with characters struggling with rules and honor, which always appeals.
The other category is, well, categories. When I'm wanting both a new book and a comfort read, I'll go to the library and try a mystery. I think that's because they're an emotionally safer read. I avoid the sort of mystery writers -- too many of them these days IMO -- who want to explore the darkest aspects of the human psyche. I want a puzzle, a good range of characters, and a clever but convincing solution.
* Nicola is away on a well-deserved break, hopefully curled up somewhere lovely, possibly on a boat, with fine company and a good book.
So what about you? Are you are rereader of favorite books? Or is once mostly enough for you? What are your comfort reads? Let's share.
Anne here, with our regular end-of-the-month wenchly feature, What We've Read. We wenches talk books all the time, and since most of my favorite authors have come to me through recommendations from friends, it's a feature I really enjoy. It's also a chance for wenchly readers to chime in with their reads of the month and the chat in the comment stream is always something I look forward to.
Let's start with Cara/Andrea:
What with various things on the home front and starting a new book, life has been a little crazy this month. So I've been a little slower than usual in making a dent in my TBR pile. I have however, just started a book I've been meaning to read for a long time, having read a number of good reviews about it. I'm not that far into it, but so far "The Swerve—How the World Became Modern" is proving delightfully original, entertaining and thought-provoking.
The author, Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt, holds that the discovery during the Renaissance of an ancient poem by Lucretius, which contained a number of fascinating ideas, greatly influenced Western thought in a variety of disciplines, and thus changed the course of history. A "Swerve," which is defined as an unforeseen deviation from a direct trajectory, are those unexpected, unpredictable moments—like the discovery of the manuscript— which have momentous significance in all facets of life.
I love his playful thinking right now, and can't wait to see how he develops and applies this idea. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in Non-Fiction and I can see why. Am hoping to get some serious reading time soon so I really really dive into it.
Jo reports thus:
My fiction this month has been authors I've mentioned in other WWR posts, and my non-fiction dips here and there for research. I did spend a bit of time going through the Morning Chronicle for spring 1817 on line, to see exactly what was going on, what was being debated in Parliament (as my heroine mentions that in passing.) An unexpected treasure (one of the joys of research) was the listings of social events. I shared the ones I'd transcribed in my Wench blog on Monday.
Most public libraries give members access to on line resources, and they're well worth exploring. I found the above in the Newspaper Archive.
May is always a good month for new books for me because it's the time of my local literary festival. This year I went to some brilliant talks on all sorts of topics from Jane Austen to genetics! One book I picked up was Sacred Land by Martin Palmer.
It is about the landscape of Britain and what it can tell us about the people of these islands and what they have believed in through thousands of years. It looks at how the British have expressed their beliefs with stone circles and holy wells and many other sacred sites. The book is full of fascinating facts such as the number of rivers that are named after ancient gods and goddesses, how so many British towns and cities are laid out on a sacred pattern and how even the smallest clue like the name of the village pub can tell you something about history. I love myths and legends and this book showed me that the history of Britain can be read in the landscape all around me.
I'm going on holiday in a few weeks and that will be my chance to catch up on my fiction reading. In the pile I have Eloise by Judy Finnegan, which has been compared to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, Gone, Girl by Gillian Flynn and A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare. I can't wait for my reading time!
Mary Jo says:
I’ve recently read several Deborah Crombie mysteries, inspired by Anne’s mention when she read the first and liked it. Crombie is an American who writes very good British police procedurals featuring Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, both detectives for Scotland Yard. As always, my interest is character, and these are fine characters. In the first book, A Share in Death, Duncan is on vacation in a converted great house condo in Yorkshire while Gemma, his new sergeant, is back in London.
That first book reads like a good, classic English manor house mystery, with a limited cast of suspects. It was traditional, but good enough that I picked up one of her most recent books. No Mark Upon Her. And it was brilliant. Set in the world of rowing in Henley on Thames, it takes the reader deep into an incredibly demanding sport with powerful historic and social roots. She makes you feel the peace of skimming over the water, the incredible pain of competitive rowing. In other words, Deborah Crombie grew tremendously as a writer of the course of 15 or so novels.
I’m not going to recommend a particular book. If you’re like me, you might want to start at the beginning of the series so you can see the characters grow and change. (Which Duncan and Gemma do well.) Or you might want to just pick up a later book, and let Deborah Crombie take you to England. <G>
And whatever I pick up I'm going to have to put down when the bathwater gets cold, so I don't want a long, complex tale.
So I picked myself up a Fantasy anthology. Imaginary Lands. This dates back to 1985. Does it say something about my TBR pile that I have books from 1985 in it? This is nine short stories by nine major hitters in Fantasy, including Robin McKinley, Patricia McKillip, and James Blaylock.
Lots of worldbuilding in these. Lyric and atmospheric stuff.
What Susan's Reading:
This month, I'm grazing through some TBR books. I zipped through Echo Bodine's The Little Book of True Ghost Stories -- I'm a sucker for ghost stories. Real ghost stories, even better. This little book is a fun read and a nice complement to a really fascinating book, The Calling by Kim O'Neill -- reads like fiction, but it's not; she sees angels, talks to them, and I'm perfectly fine with that. To top it off, Kim is a good writer, and she maintains a fictiony sort of pace. Very interesting stuff, and it's all going into the hopper as I research some ideas for my own work.
As for fiction, I'll read just about anything, but I do tend to put books down rather quickly and move on if they don't grab me and hold me past a few chapters. So I've got stacks of books that honestly - I've never finished. I don't force myself to keep going. I just flit past and look for another flower, for that magical combination of great writing and great story and characters, or at any rate, for what truly suits me as a reader.
At the insistence of a friend whose reading tastes I trust, I've just picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery -- and I'm finding it, so far, to be an elegant read, a little Eloise, a little I Capture the Castle (two of my all-time favorite books!) It's quirky, interesting, charming and unpredictable, and the writing is wonderful. I'll keep going with this one, I think.
Like Mary Jo, I've been reading Deborah Crombie and enjoying discovering an author with a substantial backlist. I'm taking it slowly, and am up to book no.8 in the series, reading them in order.
As it happens my standout read for the month was a debut book — Untamed, by Anna Cowan. It's only available as an e-book, and my copy came from the publisher with a request for a quote. My caveat with quotes is that if I don't genuinely like something I won't quote on it. Well, I didn't just like it, I loved it. It's not at all your average historical romance — it's original, wildly unconventional, clever, fresh, a little awkward in places, and fun. The writing is beautiful —some passages I frankly envied— and though the start is a little slow, a spell is woven and it gradually becomes utterly unputdownable. I read it in a gulp and it's stayed with me for ages. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but it was certainly mine.
So, now, over to you, dear readers — what books have you read and enjoyed this month? Do you enjoy an author with a good long backlist or are you also excited to read debut books? Let's talk books...
Anne here. Today the Word Wenches celebrate seven years of blogging — that's quite an achievement when you realize how many blogs have faded away in that time. To celebrate, we're having a little party — a dessert party, and each of us is sharing a delicious historical dessert.
Mary Jo kicks off with Ice Cream!
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” The words above come from a popular song of 1925, but chilled desserts that literally melt in your mouth have a much longer history. Flavoring snow with fruit and juices goes all the way back to the Persians, at least. Alexander the Great was said to be very fond of it, too. (The pics in this section are from Historic Food, used with permission.)
The Arabs seem to have been the first to use dairy products—milk, cream, or yoghurt—in their chilled desserts, and they came up with a form of industrial production. Flavorings could include rosewater, nuts, and dried fruits, and it was available in the major cities of the Arab world such as Cairo and Damascus.
There are lots of great stories of early frozen desserts, which seem to have been popular everywhere, with the key difficulty being the acquisition of snow or ice in order to make the treat. The Mughal emperors of India used relays of swift horse to bring snow from the Hindu Kush for their sorbets. It’s said that ice cream is one of the things Marco Polo brought back to Italy, presumably to follow up the pasta dinner he is also credited with.
I like this anecdote from Wikipedia: “Charles I of England was, it was reported, so impressed by the "frozen snow" that he offered his own ice cream maker a lifetime pension in return for keeping the formula secret, so that ice cream could be a royal prerogative. There is no historical evidence to support these legends,” Even if there is no evidence to support this, doesn’t it sound just like Charles the I and his divine right of kings nonsense, where the best stuff is saved for the very rich? But it’s true that for centuries, frozen desserts were the prerogative of the elite. George and Martha Washington famously served ice cream at Mount Vernon; his recipe began by saying to chop ice from Potomac and preserve it in an ice house until spring heralded the arrival of good cream and fruit. The dishes used to serve the ice cream were tiny, holding only an ounce or two. (more about this here )
The 19th century produced the democratization of ice cream, with insulated ice houses, commercial production, and the invention of small hand cranked ice cream makers. We’ve been scarfing down vast quantities of ice cream ever since, because it makes us happy!
What inspired me to contribute ice cream to the Word Wenches 7th Anniversary blog was a video about a genius young woman in Chicago who invented a method of making custom ice creams in 60 seconds by combining a base, adding your choice of flavorings, and then blasting it with liquid nitrogen. It was a grad school project for her. Being Chicago, which gets seriously cold, the iCream shop can also make warm pudding. I watched the video, and I want some of that Peanut Butter Oh My Gosh! ice cream. Now!
For our anniversary, I present a Victorian chocolate dessert from the queen’s kitchen: You will notice the cake calls for Dutch cocoa, which didn’t exist until 1828 when a Dutch chemist invented a hydraulic press to extract half the fat from chocolate liquid. By pulverizing the dry residue and adding alkaline salts (blech, ptui) to cut the bitterness, he revolutionized the chocolate industry, making chocolate cheaper and more accessible to the average consumer. (There’s a wonderful, more detailed history here.)
When Spain first brought back the cacao bean (Columbus stupidly declined to take it in trade), the Spanish considered it medicinal, and they hid the secret to making liquid chocolate for nearly a hundred years. With the decline of Spain’s power, the secret became known but it was still a drink designed for the wealthy through the 17th century--mixed with honey or sugar cane (a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down...). Cacao is Greek for food from the gods and even Casanova touted chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Science has proved that chocolate (not sugar!) can reduce hypertension. So I’m sharing chocolate for your health!
Mmmmm, chocolate.. .
And as for Nicola, can she really be offering us a pile of paper? For dessert?
My contribution to the Wenchly Anniversary Party is "A Quire of Paper." Sounds pretty inedible but it is actually a pile of paper-thin pancakes served with a delicious Madeira Sauce. The recipe for the pancakes is here and the sauce is here.
It was the ancient Greeks who are credited with inventing the pancake and I thank them for it! The first references to pancakes are in the works of a couple of 5th century poets and anyone who has tasted a pile of delicious pancakes with honey will surely agree that the flavour deserves every poetic description imaginable. The Greeks liked to eat them with sesame and cheese, apparently, and even with curdled milk. Each to their own!
The accompanying sauce is taken from a cook book written by Eliza Acton, an English poet and cook who in 1845 published Modern Cookery for Private Families, one of the first cookbooks in the UK that was aimed at the domestic user rather than professional cooks. (The pic on the right is from Lavender and Lovage, and is used with permission.)
Madeira sauce can be used with either sweet or savoury meals and is often served with roast meats. Madeira is a fortified wine originating from the islands of the same name. In the 18th and early 19th centuries it was extremely popular as a drink and was in fact so popular in the US that it was the chosen drink to toast the Declaration of Independence. It seems the perfect choice to toast the Wenches' anniversary as well!
Still got room to fit in something else? Here's Cara/Andrea.
Given that we all love Regency, I can’t resist bringing Nesselrode Pudding (you can find a recipe here ) to the Wench Birthday Party. Among the many firsts of the era was the first celebrity chef—Antoine Careme, whose many delicious accomplishments included serving as the personal chef for Talleyrand, Tsar Alexander of Russia and the Prince Regent.
Tsar Alexander came to Paris with a retinue of officials and generals after Napoleon abdicated the throne. Seeking to sweeten Russia’s attitude toward conquered France, the ever-canny Talleyrand lent Careme to the Tsar, whose appetite for fine food and beautiful women was legendary. It was during this interlude that Careme created a rich confection of chestnut puree, candied fruits, raisins, Maraschino liqueur and creamy custard, which he named in honor of Count Karl Nesselrode, one of Alexander’s favorite diplomats, who served as head of Russia’s delegation to the Congress of Vienna. (The pic we've used, showing a slice of nesslerode pudding is from Historic Food, used with permission.)
Sounds yummy. Jo Beverley is here with another pudding — this time a hot one.
I decided to offer Spotted Dick, a pudding, because it usually amuses, and a party needs some laughter. However, my curiosity twitched, and I discovered that it is probably has more credence as a joke than as a reality. I found references to it only from the late 19th century, and not many of those. I got lost in research!
However, it's a suet pudding, and suet puddings are a central part of British cookery. Christmas pud, for example, is a suet recipe. If you're north American and want to try to make this dish you'll first have to find suet, and that can be tricky. If you have a butcher, ask there. He or she may not know what it is. It's is the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys. You can't substitute butter, lard, or shortening.
Suet puddings, sweet or savory, have to be steamed, which is also a bit tricky. That's why I'm not giving a recipe, but there are plenty on the web. Have a go!
Some describe it as a roly-poly stuffed with dried fruit, but in order to deserve the description, I think it has to be a sponge-type pudding spotted simply with currants. Like all the best puddings, it should be served with custard, but I'm not a purist there. If you can find Bird's custard powder, go with that. My secret there is to use less sugar than recommended and some extra vanilla essence -- the real stuff, not artificial. Enjoy! (Pic above: Spotted Dick and custard, London Wikimeet 2005 Photographer: User:Justinc)
Susan is naturally going all Scottish — hoots awa' lassie!
To celebrate our Wench anniversary party, I’m bringing something Scottish to the table! First, a dish of Cranachan--a layered dessert made from toasted oats, whipped cream and raspberries. Traditionally eaten at the celebratory feast when the harvest was done in late summer, it's now a Scottish dessert year round, so simple that it’s sometimes assembled right at the table from bowls of fresh ingredients. Start with raspberries drizzled in whisky or dark rum, top with whipped cream sweetened with heather honey and mixed toasted oats. Dollop and drizzle this into a glass dish, dip a spoon, and enjoy!
Next we'll nibble some bannocks—oats cut generously with salted butter and toasted on a griddle. Bannocks are a basic and ancient food in Scotland (easy to make while strolling the Highland hills watching the cattle or the sheep--those were often made with beef suet <author wrinkles nose>).
Bannocks aren't sweet, unlike traditional Scottish shortbread, which Queen Victoria enjoyed at Balmoral--chilled butter, flour and sugar in generous thirds crumbled together, shaped, flattened, cut out, pricked and baked. Bannocks give our palates a little rest from the sweetness of our dessert feast, and they're perfect with orange marmalade. Marmalade is an ancient treat--the Greeks and Romans made it from quinces (the Greek word for quince is marmelo) boiled in water and honey, left to set into a delicious concoction. A later tradition claims that Mary, Queen of Scots asked for marmalade while aboard ship sailing from France to Scotland. The seasick young queen called for “marmalade, pour Marie est malade!” This may be an apocryphal pun, but could have some truth to it, for quinces were said to soothe the stomach.
Mary would not have asked for orange marmalade, though. That recipe was invented in Scotland in 1797, when a Spanish ship was forced to dock in Dundee harbor to wait out a storm, while its cargo of small, bitter Seville oranges grew too ripe. James Keiller, a Dundee grocer, bought the crates at a bargain price and carted them home, where his wife Janet used them instead of quinces to make marmalade--chopping up the bitter oranges and boiling them in water with plenty of sugar. Dundee marmalade was so delicious that Janet's first batch sold out, and the family made the famous marmalade for generations.
Sherrie's dessert offering is a delicious blackberry cobbler. She says, “As in Regency times, when many cooks didn’t use ‘recipes’, my own cobbler recipe is in my head. I’ve never measured the ingredients." So here's a link to a blackberry cobbler recipe, and while we can't guarantee it's as good as Sherrie's, it still looks pretty yummy.
Joanna, being a wench who takes her research seriously, made and tested her recipe.
For our special Wenchday, I'm making syllabub. Because I love the sound of the word 'syllabub'. It's an 'origin unknown' word from the 16th century, so we're free to imagine how the term came about. They had a whole slew of milk-based drinks in Tudor times -- syllabubs, caudles and possets. They were still around in the Regency, but kinda lost popularity in the Nineteenth Century. About the only one we still drink is egg nog.
The recipe I made today calls for 1 cup whipping cream, 1/4 cup sweet white wine, 1/4 c sugar and the zest and peel of half a lemon. In one bowl, mix wine, sugar and lemon till the sugar mostly dissolves. In another bowl, beat the cream till it's almost thick. Add the lemon/wine mixture to the cream and beat a bit more. Serves six people because you don't want much of it. Refriges well for the next day.
The reviews from the syllabub tasting --
"Tastes like lemon meringue pie."
'Would be good on fresh fruit."
"Has a nice little bite at the end."
"I'd order it but not make it."
"The last bit with the raspberry was yummy."
and the ever popular, "Not as bad as I expected, actually."
Anne again, and though I should be probably offering some kind of tonic for upset stomachs after all that rich rood, I'm not. I'm adding one of my favorite desserts, which was a favorite in regency times as well — lemon tart.
It's basically a lemon custard baked in a pie shell, and though lemon tart is probably eternal, the quantity of eggs and the way of writing out the recipe has changed a good deal. Here's one from The Compleat Houfewife, Eliza Smith 1758 — I love it because of the f-shaped s's. This pic is of a modern lemon tart from here.
"Take three clear lemons and grate off the outfide rinds. Take the yolks of twelve eggs and fix whites, beat them very well, fqueeze in the juice of a lemon then put in three quarters of a pound of fine powdered fugar and three quarters of a pound frefh butter melted. Ftir all well together, put a fheet of pafte at the bottom and fift fugar on the top. Put into a brifk oven, three quarters of an hour will bake it."
To celebrate our seven years of blogging, we're giving away some prizes — three lucky winners will receive a copy of our wenchly anthology Mischief and Mistletoe, as well as a rare ARC (advance review copy) of Mary Jo Putney's latest book — Sometimes a Rogue, plus Cara Elliot's RITA finalist book, Too Dangerous to Desire and my RITA finalist, Bride By Mistake. There are no geographical restrictions on prizewinners, but we're aiming to spread the prizes wide, so let us know 1) what's your favorite dessert and 2) where you live.
Posted by Anne Gracie on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 04:04 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Food and Drink, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (84)
How does a high school science teacher end up writing award-winning historical romances? Join us on Monday, May 20, with Patricia Rice and her guest, Jeannie Lin, and find out! Jeannie has garnered coveted starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and in 2011 The Dragon and the Pearl was listed as one of Library Journal's Best Romances of 2011. Jeannie will be giving away one of her books to a commenter chosen at random. See you Monday!
My, how time flies when you're having fun! On Wednesday, May 22, we'll be celebrating our 7th anniversary as a group blog. The Wenches know how to celebrate in style: we'll be throwing a grand Anniversary Dessert Party for all our readers, featuring delicious historical treats of the virtual variety (which means they'll be calorie-free!) You're all invited to the party, where we'll be serving historical desserts without limit! It's our way of thanking you for seven years of loyal readership and fascinating discussions!
It’s Ask-A-Wench time! We’ve chosen a question from reader Kantu Malhotra, who mentioned (a while back -- OK, so we're not that prompt) that she rather liked a “little tidbit (in the newsletter) about Roquefort cheese” -- a reference to local sheepherders applying stinky, moldy cheese to wounds to prevent gangrene—a practice that eventually led to the discovery of penicillin. “Cool to have a story woven around medical facts of the time,” Kantu told us.
The Wenches agree—it’s really interesting to weave historical medical tidbits into our stories, and we’ve each done that to some degree or another. It might be an injured hero or heroine, or a trained or natural healer; sometimes it’s just a flesh wound ... or something minor that comes in handy for the story. We’re all careful to match the treatment to its historical context. Here are some examples of Wenchly doses of medicine:
Illnesses and injuries have come up several times in my books, but in most cases they're pretty straightforward things - broken ankle, fevers, that kind of thing. I have a couple of doctor friends who I run things past, although they're not experts on the historical methods of treatment. I generally ask what could happen if there was no treatment, and would aspirin or poultices or whatever help? And they usually say "Maybe, it depends..." Sometimes I just say something like, "I need a disease that could look fatal but which could be healed without modern medicine."
Many of the recognised medical treatments of the time ranged from harmless to the downright dangerous, but some modern-day readers bring a modern day sensibility to their fiction. I've had a reader criticise my heroine (in The Perfect Kiss) for overruling a doctor and sacking him because all he ever did was bleed the patient who was getting weaker and weaker. My heroine brought in a local wise woman/healer, and the man got better. The reader scoffed at this -- first at the arrogant heroine who "knew better than a doctor", secondly at the ability of the wise woman to "magically" heal him with poultices and chicken soup. Actually the disease, the symptoms and the wise woman's treatment had all come from a doctor friend of mine.
I have historical household management books that contain loads of advice on how to treat various ailments. Some would horrify us. The eye cure, for instance that calls for powdered white of hen's dung to be blown into the patient's eyes, recipes that use "oil of worms" as an ingredient, or the blood of a hare, or dried snail-shells and bees baked in an oven, and white lead -- all sorts of concoctions, and impossible claims that they will cure all kinds of disease. I love these books, with their recipes headed 'An excellent vomit' or 'An infallible cure for the bite of a mad dog' and 'The Tar Pills for a Cough' -- they contained actual tar.
But I generally have my characters employ historical treatments that people today can understand and appreciate -- willow-bark tea for instance, which was the raw source of aspirin, and had been used for centuries as a folk treatment. Cinchona bark, a natural source of what we now call quinine, has medicinal properties that were known in Europe as far back as the 16th century. I have my people use herbal unguents containing herbs that have recognized healing qualities. And being a beekeeper, I know about the healing powers and antibacterial qualities of natural honey—people in history didn't understand the science of it, but they knew it worked.
I do seem to injure my characters a lot, especially my heroes. No wonder my husband says I don't want to meet any of them on a dark night! I think it's because if they're going to be active and brave there have to be consequences sometimes or where are the risks?
In my first medieval, Lord of My Heart, I had the heroine skillfully tending Aimery's wound -- a classic bonding moment, as we all know -- and stitching it. I learned years later that that could well have killed him. Before antibiotics people were more intent on keeping wounds open to keep track of and fight infection than stitching them up to minimize scarring.
In The Rogue's Return, set in the relative wilderness of Upper Canada, Jancy uses her gypsy knowledge to fight Simon's infected wound with maggots. This definitely works and is still used today. The right maggots will eat corrupted flesh but leave the sound flesh intact to heal. I know, however, that the wrong maggots would eat anything. I sort of mused aloud about how she'd find the right sort and my husband said, "Ask an angler." I soon had all the information and knew that one old way of fishing was to hang a rabbit or such over a stream. The maggots fell out and attracted the fish, which the person fishingust scooped up. People who wanted to fish with a line would cultivate maggots in rotting meat. Therefore I knew how Jancy would get plenty of the right sort, and Simon's arm was saved.
Having no medical expertise whatsoever, (not to speak of being incredibly squeamish about needles and blood . . .suffice it to say I once fainted before my doc could even give me a shot) I tend to avoid any detailed descriptions of medical procedures. When my heroes or heroines get hurt, they tend to say, “Oh, it’s just a scratch” and then someone sprinkles basilicum powder on the wound.
That said, in To Sin With A Scoundrel, my heroine was a scientist with a specialty in chemistry, and I have her make a discovery about mold and the healing process (using artistic license to play with the idea of penicillin.) I did some basic research, but didn’t get too detailed about the science as it wasn’t critical to the story. Laudenum, which was so prevalent in Regency times, does interest me, and I’ve toyed with using addiction as a plot point, but as yet haven’t found the right storyline.
I have to admit that I seldom include much historical medical detail in my books. I belong to a family with more than its fair share of medical professionals and yet I am quite a squeamish person when it comes to the debates they all have around the dinner table! Medicine in history is not a subject I've researched very much and I think one of the reasons I don't tend to include it is fear of making a huge error. I got caught out once in one of my books, Lord Greville's Captive, when the heroine was in a coma for quite a long time and a reader wrote to me to point out that it seemed unlike she would have survived with the treatment that was available in the seventeenth century. Absolutely. Other than a hero with a gunshot wound in one of my early books, The Larkswood Legacy, I can't think of any other times I've damaged my characters physically!
On the other hand, I do tend to give them much more mental anguish. The heroine of my next book, The Lady and the Laird, has post traumatic stress after a terrifying childhood experience. I researched PTS very thoroughly in terms of the understanding of it available at the time and found it a fascinating topic. But that's a different AAW!
Like Nicola, I'm squeamish about maiming my
characters. That could be because I know just enough to be dangerous about the
medical profession of the time and can't imagine how anyone survived. So if I'm
going to wound anyone, it will be in books like the Mystic Isle books where
they had Healers on hand to ease the process with magic. Devil's Lady has a heroine suffering malnutrition
and exposure, does that count? And I guess a magically induced coma from my
next Jamie Quaid, Damn Him to
Hell, probably isn't even accurate in today's terms, much less
So nope, research has never led me to use cheese to heal what ails my characters!
Having a weakness for healers and medical situations, I’ve included several in my books. I find this stuff so interesting to research -- and very handy for creating dramatic situations that can affect, define or develop the characters and story. In my first book, The Black Thorne’s Rose, the heroine, practicing her archery skills, accidentally shoots the hero in the thigh—she's a lousy shot, and he's in the wrong place at the wrong time. She cracks off the arrowshaft and later removes the bolt. He’s not real pleased, as you can imagine.
The medieval hero of The Angel Knight has a natural healing ability--and the heroine, imprisoned in an iron cage by the king, is dying. She gets better just by being around the hero--that pesky healing thing he's trying to hide--and I was careful to make sure her symptoms and the medieval remedies were appropriate for the time. The sequel, Lady Miracle, (recently converted to ebook) is my most medically detailed book. The heroine—sister of the Angel Knight--has the same gift, but she is also a trained physician. That was possible, just, because I sent her (in backstory) to Italy.
During the medieval era, women were rarely allowed to practice medicine as physicians—except in Italy. So she was educated in Bologna--the most advanced medicine was practiced in the Arab world then, and the Italian schools were paying close attention, even bringing Arabian physicians into their universities. The heroine’s first husband was an elderly Arabian physician, and she learned well. Once back home in Scotland, she has little chance to use what she knows, and doesn't dare admit her healing gift for fear of heresy. But when the hero, a Highlander and field surgeon desperate to save his ailing niece, comes looking for the lady physician, she finally gets to follow her training as well as her heart.
I got to play with all sorts of conditions and medical treatments—battle wounds (wine poured over an open wound, cautery, and silk thread with steel needles were all in use then), toothache, childbirth, neonatal medicine, polio and physical therapy, even astrology and medicine, were all part of the story. This book was a research challenge, but it was fascinating and fun to write about medieval medicine, all wrapped into a Scottish historical romance.
Mary Jo Putney
I adore damaging my characters! My very first book, The Diabolical Baron, had a hero, Richard Davenport, who was left with permanent leg damage from a Waterloo wound. The first book where I did period medical research was my next Regency The Would-Be Widow, now available in a historical version as the The Bargain. The hero, David Lancaster, was mostly paralyzed and dying from wounds suffered at Waterloo. (He and the hero of the first book were friends and brother officers.)
I was inspired by reading accounts of the battle, including one man who was on the operating table paralyzed from the waist down. The surgeon removed a piece of shrapnel in the spine that had been blocking the nerves, and the patient promptly got up and ran out of the room. In David’s case, I added over-medication with laudanum, which killed his appetite so he was fading toward death. Just to top it off, after his miraculous surgery, I gave Dave an opium addiction to kick. It isn’t easy to be one of my heroes.
David was operated on by a Scottish surgeon and physician called Ian Kinlock, who had an experimental turn of mind and had learned how to use a primitive antibiotic in the moldy bread that he’d gotten from a Polish sailor. Ian fed it regularly, rather like yeast, so it would keep producing the substance that reduced inflammation rates. As part of the same research, I read of people who would keep a chunk of bread up in the rafters getting moldy, and they’d use a slice for poultices to treat wounds.
Probably the most research I’ve done was to figure out how to do a primitive blood transfusion for Shattered Rainbows. My hero, Lord Michael Kenyon, was another Waterloo casualty. (What can I say? The battle is so very convenient.) He’d bled out and was close to death when the heroine, a battlefield nurse, suggested to the surgeon, Ian Kinlock (he’s handy, too <G>), that they could try a blood transfusion from her to Michael. Ian wasn’t keen, but admitted there wasn’t much to lose. Goose quills were used to transfer the blood, which naturally saved Michael’s life. Talk about romantic! Catherine couldn't reveal her love because she was married, but she literally gave him the blood from her veins.
This was pre-internet, so I had to do a lot of digging, include a visit to the Maryland Med Chi library. I described the technique to a hematologist and a vascular surgeon, both of whom were horrified by the very thought. But there were some recorded occasions when such transfusions worked, presumably when the blood types were compatible and no killer infections set in.
One of the nice things about playing God in our books is that we can always make the medical treatments turn out right.
My heroine Annique in The Spymaster's Lady does take a bullet out of young Adrian. True, It was a fairly shallow bullet wound, but then, my heroine was blind. Blind, you say. How did that go? you say.
I got into this taking of bullets out of chests because I wanted my Annique to
do something competent and heroine-oic. In the back of my mind there was
the memory of how surgeons operate by touch. Operate 'blind' as it
were. Interns practice operations on plastic models of body parts, putting
their hands inside a sack so they have to work only by touch. That levels
the playing field a bit for a blind woman.
The process of taking a bullet out of somebody hasn't changed all that much in two hundred years. In 1802, a surgeon might use a scalpel to open a crusted entry wound and forceps to collect the bullet and pluck it forth. Lead shot, the simple medical instrumentation, and the arrangement of muscle and bone are all pretty much the same after two centuries. Technique? A modern surgeon, with an array of antibiotics at hand, might cut a new pathway to the bullet. A Regency period surgeon would be apt to use the preexisting entry to avoid 'enlarging the wound' as they would have called it. That's what I have Annique do.
My characters are on the run. It's emergency surgery with no anesthetic--not that there were any great ones around at the time. Opium and brandy were about it, and a couple strong friends to hold the patient down. Speed, as you might imagine, is of the essence if you're poking at the innards of somebody awake and kicking. In my bullet-removal scene we do a brief excursion into a sort of hypnosis. It's plausible my characters would have been familiar with this concept. It had been kicking around Europe, more or less disrespectable, for most of the eighteenth century.
Afterwards, my French heroine left the entry hole bandaged but open to drain, following the best French battlefield practice of the time.
So the weaving of medical history into our historical fiction is important to all of us -- and we've each done our best to make it original, accurate, authentic and interesting!
What about you all -- do you enjoy reading about historical medicine? And do you prefer more or less detail about the squicky bits?
And congratulations to Kantu, who wins a book because we chose her question!
Remember -- if you ask a question of the Wenches and if we choose your question as the basis of a blog, you win a book! Easy and fun. So ask away!
Posted by Susan on Monday, April 15, 2013 at 02:28 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Ask-a-Wench, Bookmarks, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Writing Topics | Permalink | Comments (13)
Thanks to all those who contributed fishy sounding titles for our April Fools/Poisson d'avril post.
Your clever and fun suggestions gave the wenches a good few chuckles. I said we'd give a prize to the best title suggestion and there were so many good ones, we had trouble deciding on just one, but in the end the decision went to Nancy G for her suggestion "Sweet Savage Sturgeon."
I'll be contacting Nancy to get her address.
Thanks for all the fish.
I’m going out on a limb here to say I don’t think the world is going to end today, Mayan Apocalypse notwithstanding. <G> Instead, it’s the winter solstice, the first day of Capricorn, and the heart of holiday madness. People are shopping, wrapping, cooking, collapsing. So I decided to ask the Wenches just for fun what they might choose for a Dream Christmas. As always, the replies are as varied and amusing as the Wenches. <G>
I've always wanted to see the Northern Lights. So maybe my dream Christmas is a fancy ski resort somewhere in the far north. Norway perhaps. Good food in the lodge. Big roaring fire in the lounge. Cheerful skiers hanging about. (No -- I don't want to ski myself, thank you.)
And then, along about midnight, I'd go out on the deck and look up. There'd be curtains of blue and red and green waving and shimmering across the sky.
Joanna, we went to see the Northern Lights in Norway a few years ago, staying in a very cosy log cabin we had rented. When the locals heard we were there to see the Northern Lights they said "They come out at 8pm." We thought this was weird - how could they be so predictable? But bless me, at 8pm for three nights in a row the Northern Lights came out right on cue and we lay in the snow and watched them shimmer overhead. (The island we were on also had a hidden military base in the centre of a mountain just like in James Bond, but that's another story.)
I'm California dreaming. I've had enough snow and ho-ho-ho in my life, and while I appreciate the joy of those Christmases, life has moved on. I need sun and warmth and my family, and they're all in California right now. Although I spent a delightful Christmas in Hawaii with family one year, and that worked beautifully too!
There's a definite appeal about going somewhere hot for Christmas but I am so steeped in tradition that I'm not sure it would feel quite right. Wonderful but not Christmas. So I think my dream would be a little house in a big wood, the snow deep outside but with a warm log fire inside and lots of delicious food. When I've eaten too much I'll roll out of the front door and take the dog for a walk in the snow. Definitely the fairytale option! (And ok, the photo isn't exactly a "little" house but it would do fine!)
Funnily enough, the Christmas setting that twangs my heart strings is dark and wet. Yes, truly. I realized this when we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1996. It's the part of Canada that has mild winters. By then, we'd been in Canada for twenty years, living in places where a white Christmas was a given, and to be honest the appeal of that was long gone. I went downtown to shop, and the short day meant that darkness fell. It was raining lightly -- not enough to be uncomfortable for a Lancashire lass -- and the Christmas lights were gleaming on the wet roads and pavements. Instant nostalgic bliss. Christmas as it ought to be!
Nicola commented: Jo, I love this and as a Yorkshire girl I can identify with dark, wet Christmases too!
My mother was Swiss, so I grew up hearing St. Nicholas stories of fairytale Alpine settings with timeless traditions. So my Dream Christmas is to go to Davos, where her family spent the winter holidays. (We went there together in summer, but never in winter.)
It’s a famous ski village, with world-class slopes and miles of cross-country skiing over frozen lakes and scenic trails. So I’d enjoy the snow sports all day, then savor mulled wine and “biberli” (a traditional Swiss confection made of gingerbread and almond paste) as the setting sun painted the mountains in a rosy alpenglow. At night, I would walk through the streets to enjoy the festive Christmas lights, the smell of fresh cut pine, the glitter of real candles on the trees—and to stuff myself with more wonderful Swiss pastries! (Hey, I skied all day! There I am on the left.)
Christmas in Australia is a little bit weird — with a large part of our culture transplanted from Europe, and still fairly British by tradition, we're raised with the secret belief that A Proper Christmas is a white one — a belief reinforced by American Christmas movies and songs. So all the shop windows are decorated with fake snow, and Santas sweat under thick red costumes and fake beards. And on Christmas day we sit in our light cotton clothes, in roasting temperatures, eating roast turkey or pork or ham with baked vegetables and gravy, followed by steaming hot plum pudding . . and then we go to the beach!
It's slowly changing, and we're increasingly adapting traditional Christmas dishes to be more suitable for a hot climate (plum pudding ice-cream, anyone?) but when I was a kid, even families who were camping over the summer holidays would slave over a hot camp oven to produce a delicious roast dinner followed by hot plum pudding. Because that's what Christmas is.
So having only experienced one cold Christmas in my life, and that a drizzly London one when I was eight, my fantasy is the Christmas of all those gorgeous Christmas stories that we all enjoy so much. I've built a snowman, but never around Christmas, I've cut down a pine tree for Christmas but always in roasting temperatures.
So I'd like Christmas in a gorgeous old English country house, with delicious things cooking up in the aga, a big blazing fireplace in the sitting room and a bunch of good friends, drinking and sharing stories and delicious nibbles. It must, of course, be a white Christmas, so I want to wake up on Christmas morning to see big fat flakes of snow drifting down to coat the world in a blanket of white — no blizzards in my fantasy, thank you. Then in the daytime I'd want to play in the snow doing all the things I've written about and never done — tramping through snow to gather holly and mistletoe to decorate the house, making snow angels, skating on a frozen pond, taking a ride on a horse-drawn sleigh (with bells on) through a hushed white landscape, and coming home to a blazing fire, roasting chestnuts and hot mulled wine.
(Now excuse me while I turn on the air-conditioner.)
I love my home and burrowing in with the cats and Mayhem Consultant, with plenty of food and entertainment and NO responsibilities! But for a dream Christmas? I’d join several of the other Wenches in dreaming of a beautiful house in a beautiful place. In fact, why not Ashford Castle, where we had a wonderful visit in September? There would be room for all the Wenches and significant others and our pets, because what’s a holiday without our fur friends??? The rooms are large and gracious, with beautiful views of the grounds or the lake, and the food is marvelous. So we could have chatting or privacy or roaring fires, and maybe go out to watch the trained falcons fly.
We’d love if you stopped by to join us for tea as well. There’s space by the fire and plenty of delicious tea and cakes for all!
So what would your Dream Christmas be? Have you had one already? What would you choose for another?
Happy holiday dreaming!
‘Tis the day before American Thanksgiving, and many of us are going in all directions as we travel, or welcome friends and family, make lists of items we might have forgotten for the feast, and if we’re hosting a gathering, we might be doing a hasty clean up that involves shoving things into closets and hoping they don't explode.
In the midst of busyness, it’s good to pause and take a deep breath now and then. Thanksgiving is mostly a North American holiday, with Canadian Thanksgiving held earlier, on the second Monday of October. There are other countries that have their versions of Thanksgiving as well. The holiday is rooted in harvest celebrations which go back to pagan times.. After all, having grown and preserved enough food supplies to take the community through the harshness of winter is an achievement well worth celebrating!
But thankfulness can be for more than just the harvest. I’ve asked the various Wenches for a few words each on what they’re thankful for:
I love the aromas of Thanksgiving, the roasting turkey, the cooking sage and celery, the baking pumpkin and apple pies, and outside, the scents of autumn leaves and woodfires. This Thanksgiving, as all others, I'm grateful for the never-ending supply of books to curl up with after dinner, and for the ability to shop online so I needn't go out in the cold and stand in line when I'd rather be reading!
After experiencing the terrifying force of Hurricane Sandy, Cara/Andrea is thankful that her family and neighbors, as well as her house and all the irreplaceable memories inside it, survived unscathed. She's also grateful for things like power, electric lights and the fact that she will be enjoying hot food on the morrow (cold cereal and peanut butter sandwiches begin to taste like cardboard after several days.) But most of all, she's grateful for all her wonderful friends, whose warm hugs and sense of humor kept her smiling through all the chaos. Now, as romance writers, we Wenches all write about love . . . but as Winnie the Pooh says, "You don't spell love, you feel it."
(Above is a picture of Joanna's beautiful cat, creating beauty in a simple moment.)
I am on holiday (for which I am very thankful <g!>) so I'm sorry I don't have time to contribute to this post but I do wish all Wenches a very Happy Thanksgiving!
We don't have Thanksgiving in Australia, but I do have a journal in which, from time to time, I list seven things I'm grateful for. It's an excellent thing to do, even when you're feeling totally miserable and down — especially then, in fact. And why seven things? I don't really know, I probably read it somewhere. I think the theory behind it is to push yourself to think of more than the obvious things. And I don't just list them, I write about them in a little bit of detail.
Doing this regularly has changed me in small ways. One of the things I once wrote I'm grateful for is that the increased planting of native vegetation in the suburb I live in has resulted in more native birds living around me, so I wake up to the sound of lorikeets chittering and magpies carolling. Now every time I notice them, I smile and it lifts my mood.
I don't write in my journal every day, and I don't do a gratitude list every time — that would be a bit too Pollyanna for me — but I try to do it regularly enough for it to make a difference in how I perceive my life. If you're interested in learning more, here's a link,
I could also add in that right now I'm extremely . . . slurp. . . thankful for . . . slurp. . . mangoes. The mango season has just started here and. . . pause to lick fingers . . . they're delicious!
Here in England we don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but Canada does, so I'm used to the concept. It's not one of my traditions, but I'm always up for appreciating the good stuff in life. So, I'm thankful for good health, my lovely family, and the fact that my writing is going very well, plus my nerine bowdenii, which puts on a lovely display of flowers at this time when nearly all the rest are dead. I hope everyone reading here has as much or more to be thankful for.
I've always figured if you're lucky enough to feel happy just because -- Hey, look! The sun's come up! -- then you're going to have something to be grateful for most mornings. I am in this felicitous situation.
This year, I've pulled up in a safe harbor after a long tumultuous time. The sun's coming in the window. Lunch is simmering on the stove. I'm doing work that I love. (I'm currently studying a map of London in 1800 which is where my head is at.) I work in blue jeans and tee shirt and stretchy red slippers with nifty pompoms on them.
I've kept a gratitude journal for years, jotting down a few thoughts at the end of the day when/if I think of it -- and if I'm too tired, I try to tick off a few thankful thoughts on my fingers as I go to sleep. Lazy girl's gratitude air-journal! I figure it works as well as ink and paper. It's the thought that counts, after all.
This year at Thanksgiving--a time when we're reminded to be thankful for all that we have--while the turkey is roasting, the pies baking and the potatoes simmering, I'll look around and be thankful for family and friends, for health and happiness, for being able to do work that has meaning for me. And I'm thankful for the small things too. This will be a quiet Thanksgiving for us, with two of our kids working that day (medical people don't get a break, but we're all grateful for what they do), and I'm looking forward to a quiet, peaceful day of cooking, football, reading, and taking some time to just plain enjoy a simple day off. I'll be thankful for the savory, sweet, a bit rich dinner (why do this just once a year? I love the Thanksgiving menu!) And I'm particularly grateful that I'll be finally over the flu by Thanksgiving day (I am thankful for antlbiotics!)
And I'm thankful just to be aware that gratefulness is truly important on Thanksgiving Day, and every day. Or as one of my sons once summed up Thanksgiving gratitude years ago -- "I feel great and I feel full!"
I have so much to be grateful for! I love this holiday, which is a warm, friendly gathering of some family and friends with everyone contributing and no football games on the TV. I’m very grateful for good health, and glad the election is over, and all those ads that came with it! I’m grateful that I can write stories, and there are still people who want to read them. I’m grateful that cats have soft fur and purrs. (That’s the Elusive Lacey on the left.) And I’m grateful to a world that has (mostly!) useful technology that enables us to connect with our friends and readers.
Sherrie Holmes, Word Wench Whipmistress:
Every day is a blessing to me. From my early childhood I was known as a Pollyanna, always managing to see the good in every situation. I never outgrew that. In fact, I have a little booklet where I record 3 things I'm grateful for, every day. (Well, almost every day!) The great Victorian writer, humorist, and editor, Edward Sandford Martin, summed it up for me: "Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow."
Last year, a diagnosis of endometrial cancer changed my life. I made it through surgery with flying colors, and the news was good: they got it all. It hadn't spread. No chemo, no radiation. They say you can judge a person by the company they keep. If that's so, then I must be a very fine person indeed, because I have the best friends and clients in the world. They surrounded me with love and support and prayers during my ordeal. Support came from quarters I could never have imagined. If there's one thing women do well, it's that they know how to support each other!
This Thanksgiving I will put on my Pollyanna hat and reflect once more on the bounty of my blessings, not the least of which includes two comedian dogs who are a daily inspiration on how to live with a heart of gratitude, and an equally comedic cat with a penchant for stealing pencils off my desk.
MJP again. At Anne's suggestion, here's a link to a wonderful little clip that says so much about the spirit of thankfulness.
What are you grateful for this year? Life tends to cycle through ups and downs, but even in a down cycle, there are usually a few bright spots for which we can give thanks. Just to add to someone's small pleasures, I'll give away a copy of my most recent historical romance, No Longer a Gentleman, to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Thursday.
Mary Jo, adding a picture of a harvest corn dolly similar to the one that hangs on the door of her office as a memory of living in England--an experience I am eternally grateful for.
Posted by MaryJoPutney on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 06:53 PM in Andrea Penrose, Anne Gracie, Cara Elliott, Food and Drink, History, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)