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I can’t say that I don’t want to write contemporaries since I have, but historicals are my main love. I researched contemporary subjects for the contemporaries, but researching a town or a career isn’t quite the same as digging into the culture and politics of two hundred years ago. I can put my 1830 people on the cutting edge of industry and inventions and know those industries and inventions won’t be outdated tomorrow, they’ll always be fixed in 1830. But if I write, as I have, about a techie in the 21st century who uses the latest greatest device, a thumb drive—by the next year, that book is completely outdated. And man, cell phones really ruin suspense!
Joanna here. Ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night are my topic today. That line would be a wonderful old survival from the past if only it were genuine instead of a Victorian fake. But it is fakes I’m going to talk about so this sets the mood pleasantly.
What did our Regency and Georgian predecessors dread when they huddled under the bedclothes and brisk winds blew their midnight candle out? What did they fear? What haunted their nightmares?
Superstition was pretty rife in the elegant Beau Brummel days, as we know by looking at all those ‘horrid novels’ they shiveringly adored. Before I let myself go all smug and superior, I’ll remind myself superstition is pretty rife nowadays too. Grossmom was born at the end of the nineteenth Century not far from Kiev. She not only believed in werewolves, there’d been one killed in her village in her father’s time. They tracked a killer wolf into the deep woods and shot it. When they came up to find the body, it was a naked man they found dead.
Hmmm ... (goes jo skeptically.) Was this some hunting accident quickly hushed up? Or just somebody who'd made himself unpopular in the village? Grossmom believed it though.
Joanna here, back with another exciting dispatch from the universe of the past. Talking about roads, in fact.
I was going to wax eloquent on road building in general, starting with the madly competent engineering Romans and going right on till I got to ugly but practical tar-bound macadam in 1902, pioneered by a Swiss doctor in Monaco.
Have you ever noticed how very many Victorian doctors invented things? I worry a bit about their patients, what with the physicians studying refrigeration, road surfaces, and coca cola instead of, for instance, gall bladders.
Back to roads.
I quickly discovered the history of road construction and law is mind-numblingly dull, so I decided to throw myself directly into what roads and pavements would have looked like in Regency London. This is not precisely enthralling, but better than Turnpike Trusts, believe me.
We're going straight to the hard, permanent, waterproof stuff laid down on city walkways and roadways to distinguish them from the endless tracks of dirt and muddy ruts with which the countryside was plentifully supplied.
Were there dirt roadways in the city of London?
Dirt roadways approached the edges of the city, of course.
I imagine one of the welcome signs of arriving in London was the rumble and clack of London roads under wheel or hoof. The banks of the Thames were unpaved and frankly mucky I should think and travelled by foot and the odd wagon. It's likely that some of the smallest alleys in the rookeries were essentially drainage swales washed out by the downpours and unpaved.
But on the whole, London was paved.
The paving was most generally cobbles, bricks, and in some places large, flat flagstones.We are pre-macadam here.
To see examples of these elements, head up to the Gillray painting way above to the left.
I'll wait while you go find it.
It's up at the beginning.
We get a bit of social commentary there as well. Just a splendid opportunity to see what was underfoot in the Regency in both the literal and metaphorical sense.
First off, there's the cobblestone street. Click on the picture to get a closer view of it. More cobblestone down on the right at the bottom.
There in Gillray's Bond Street we're made vividly aware of how mucky (or dusty, in season) the cobblestone road with its traffic of horses and wagons would have been. Those crossing-sweepers who cleared a path at the corner earned their little tip, apparently.
See the curb. These curbs were a usual appurtenance of the better streets. Kept the walkway a little drier, likely. And then on the walkway itself — never, in England, a sidewalk — we see the larger, square-cut flagstones. We'd find thee flagstones on the fancier streets where there were shops. They'd be common for interior courtyards
I will make a writer's confession here. What I had been in the habit of calling 'cobblestone' seems to be referred to as 'cobbles' in the period. 'Cobblestones' may have been a bit of an Americanism at the time.
The word 'cobble' refers to the size and shape of the stones, rather than to what they're made of, which would usually be granite. (i.e. rock.) Thus 'cobbles' means 'a buncha
naturally round stones smoothed by the natural action of rivers and handy for prying up and throwing at somebody'.
If you look over to the right you will see a line of bollards separating the walkway from the street. This is another Regency feature I see a lot of. They may use it when they don't want to put in a curb. One might think of it as something for the stray pedestrian to shelter behind.
Moving on to technique. The brick or stone or flagstone was generally laid dry — that is, in a bed of sand. In courtyards, stables and the like that got a lot of traffic the brick or stone might be laid in mortar to keep it just firmly as heck in place. I will just point out, though, that one of the many advantages of sand-laid cobblestone was that it didn't crack with freezing and thawing which it would start to do if you laid it in mortar, thus creating unsightly crevices in the public thoroughfare. Just saying.
Now the bricks could be laid lengthwise so that they look like brick or laid on end so that they look like "are those bricks or half bricks?" It's thirty-two statue bricks to cover a yard when you lay them longways but sixty-two stood endwise if you want a thicker road, courtyard, or walkway altogether. And that is more than most people will tell you about laying brick roads. The brck roads in Oz were laid longwise and thus would have been thirty-two per square yard, in case you have ever wondered.
So. What's on YOUR walkway these days? Or what was on your childhood walkway? Or even, will you get behind the City Council's desire to redo the whole downtown in cobblestone which is almost the definition of a municipal wild hare?
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*)
Our monthly round-up of favorite reads for the summer months, or winter if you're down-under, plus a few movies to help us through the extreme weather.
As an antidote to the high summer heat and humidity that have settled over Maryland, we recently watched Where Eagles Dare, a 1968 action movie set in World War II. I first saw it many years ago, and I've seen it once or twice since, but not recently, and I was curious about how well it's held up. (This because we'd recently watched another WWII movie from the same era and it was pretty bad.)
But Where Eagles Dare still rocks! Based on a novel and screenplay by Alistair MacLean, a favorite author of mine for many years, it's fast paced and full of twists and turns. It features a very handsome and enigmatic Richard Burton, a very young and very deadly Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure, Burton's love interest and fellow agent, a woman who is as skilled with a machine gun as Clint.
The plot has a group of British commandos going to a Nazi mountain fortress to rescue an American general who knows the D-Day plans, and they have to get him out before the information can be tortured out of him. Eastwood is an American Army Ranger who is along for reasons that become clear at the end (when he says something to the effect of 'next time you Brits have a party like this, don't invite me.' <G>)
But what really makes this movie so suitable for summer viewing is the setting. The Schloss Adler is on a mountaintop in Southern Bavaria in deep winter with snow, ice, and biting winds galore. The only access by cable car sailing high above the icy slopes. Delightful! Recommended for all heat waves. <G>
I've been reading a lovely book called The Giants Look Down by Sonja Price. It's a first novel and is one of the most original and interesting books I've picked up in a while. The heroine, Jaya, born in Kashmir, is determined to be a doctor like her father but a devastating natural disaster robs her of her family and her future. The scene then shifts to Scotland as she embarks on a new life. Both the scenes set in Kashmir and Scotland are beautifully and evocatively described, and the Kashmiri background in particular is unusual and fascinating. Jaya is a lovely heroine and I was rooting for her to succeed against all the odds. It's a fabulous debut book.
I was also lucky enough to pick up a pile of books at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference last week and can't wait to dive into them! One of them, The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick, is perfect summer
reading, with a heroine taking on an old cottage and discovering the secrets it has held for generations. I love Cornwall and Liz's books are so evocative that I can imagine I'm sitting in a rocky cove, gazing out over
I’ve been reading The Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s just the sort of non-fiction I love, as it weaves together important specific discoveries and personalities with an overview of the world and society at the time. The author, Laura J. Snyder, has also written another book I enjoyed (The Philosophical Breakfast Club, which is about the men who changed science in England) I think she’s both an elegant writer and a lively storyteller—something that doesn’t always go hand in hand in non-fiction.
This book is a wonderfully provocative exploration of art and science—Leewenhoek invented the microscope and Vermeer pioneered the use of optics in art (it’s thought he used a camera obscura in creating his luminous paintings.) The 1600s was the height of the Scientific Revolution, where empirical observation became the rallying cry for all those interested in understanding the world around them. She talks not only about how lenses helped see the world in a way the naked eye can't perceive, but also why Holland became a hotbed for creativity in art and science. It was a truly “eye-opening” book, and I highly recommend it!
I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction and mysteries lately. So I picked up Swimsuit Body, A Cypress Bay Mystery, by Eileen Goudge through Netgalley because I enjoy Goudge’s writing and it seemed to be a lovely combination of both. Although this is labeled a mystery, it’s so much more: a travelogue of the northern California coast, a tongue-in-cheek satire on Hollywood, and a wonderful insight into friends, small towns, and alcoholism. The solution to the mystery is in her well-drawn characters more than forensic evidence, a fact I appreciate. And while the heroine is a little too bold at times, she’s always smart, and she doesn’t pull her punches when it comes time for someone to pay. I loved the fabulously strong writing.
It's turning out to be a busy summer, so the reading hours have been fewer than I like! Currently I'm reading Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett - an English cozy set in a cozy English village, with twists. American Kate Sharp is a film location scout and her company is helping to set up a new production of Pride and Prejudice. Kate--a huge fan of anything Austen--goes over to England not to look for settings this time--but to find her boss, who has inexplicably disappeared. She follows a very interesting trail of clues - why he's vanished, what became of him, who's responsible - that takes her around the English countryside and into nooks and crannies of village life far more mysterious than she anticipated. Well written, with likable characters, a setting that beautifully evokes the heart of England, good pacing and a smart mystery that keeps you guessing, this is a good mystery, the start of a series. I'll definitely return for more.
It’s been hot and it’s been hectic this month. I feel very ambition-less.
I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon which is Book Two of the Dresden Files. This is the werewolf book. I may possibly have read this one before, or maybe I saw it on the TV show. In any case, the series is always an exciting read and this is turning out to be one of my favorites.
I also rewatched all the Dresden file TV series because I was reading the book so I am just filled to the gills with Jim Butcher. Nice.
Moving along to a second series book from a favorite author. I seem to be playing it safe this month.
Elizabeth Peters is an old, reliable favorite. I’ve moved right along in her Amelia Peabody books, (reading them very slowly as great treats,) and have now arrived at He Shall Thunder in the Sky.
Ramses is a young man, now. For philosophical reasons he’s not joining the army to fight in the trenches in World War I -- not a popular choice in Cairo. Is he doing his part another way ...?
(no SPOILERS here ...)
I've also been reading cosy mysteries -- the Toni Diamond series are by Nancy Warren. Set in the South, the protagonist is Toni Diamond, an ambitious make-up "home saleswoman" for the "Lady Bianca" cosmetic company. As the blurb for the first book says "Imagine Columbo in a lavender suit, with fake diamonds and big hair. The first story—and the first murder—takes place at a Lady Bianca convention, where consultants from all over the US gather.
I loved these books -- there are four so far and I'm waiting for more. They're clever, warm-hearted, funny (I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments), sharply observed and very entertaining. The murders are ingenious, the characterization is delightful, and there's even a sexy detective and a blossoming romance. Highly recommended. And the first book, Frosted Shadow, is free.
I've also been reading more in the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (science fiction) and am continuing Jennifer Ashley's Shifter series.
And now we open the floor to our readers. Tell us what you've been enjoying this summer! We're always eager...hungry...for new books to devour!
If you figger folks in ye olden days had it tougher than we do now, you don’t have to look further than the matter of forks. Oversimplifying like mad, one may say that Europe went from a state of no forks whatsoever, to the slightly more satisfying condition of two-pronged forks, to the multiply pronged jobbies we enjoy today.
Let us go back to the very beginning of fine dining in Europe. Here’s a Medieval feast. White cloth, pretty
dishes, probably wonderful food and wine or mead or whatever. But the guests were expected to manage the food with their knives and spoons, which they brought with them, and their fingers which they also brought with them and washed from time to time with fingerbowls and clean linen.
See how that table has knives set about here and there. There’s no soup or stew in evidence so folks
haven’t taken their spoons out.
Here's another picture. Her dinner is soup and fish and maybe a veggie. She has a spoon, I think, in her bowl and a knife, but she has no fork. It's 1656.
We are pre-fork.
Of course, there had been forks in the kitchen forever, poking roasts and holding meat down to be carved and fetching beets out of boiling water. Now the fork emerged into the culinary daylight and took a place at the table. It served two purposes there. It secured food so your knife could cut it. And the fork could be used to convey food to the mouth, a job that had heretofore been performed by the sharp point of a knife or the bowl of a spoon. Or, you know, fingers.
I have no doubt folks were nimble at this eating food off a razor-sharp knife tip. However, I’m glad I didn't have to teach a three-year-old the knack. Knives doubtless made food-fights in the nursery an altogether more deadly affair.
Today's Ask A Wench question collected by Mary Jo:
"What are your work cycles? Do you prefer writing in the morning, late at night, or high noon? Are you more productive in winter, when there is less incentive to go outside, or in the summer, when you burrow into the air conditioning and might as well write? Or--is your writing rhythm all about your deadline???"
Mostly I write in the morning, though sometimes I also write in the evening. Mid-afternoon, around three, I'm pretty brain dead so I use that time to walk the dog or do housework or go shopping. If it's raining and I'm deep in housework-avoidance, and the fridge is full, I might read for a couple of hours or do craft of some kinds — usually jewelry-making. The closer a deadline is, the less these times matter. In the last week or two of a deadline, I'll be at the computer at all hours -- can't stay away from it, really.
Hi. Joanna here. It's a great line-up this month.
I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, especially ones that ihave arcane books involved in the plot. So when I happened to read a blurb on this, I couldn’t resist. But before I go on, I have a confession to make: I’ve been madly scrambling to finish a project, so haven’t had quite as much time for reading as usual. So I’m not all that far along in this book, but am liking it enough to recommend it.
The Burnable Book. Here’s the lead blurb on the cover flap: In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings.
Maybe you can see right away why I was hooked. The author, Bruce Holsinger, is a professor of Medieval History, and already the ambiance of London—from the court intrigues to the stews—is really well-done. The style is a little edgy, but I’m liking the main protagonist a lot. A friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, and fellow poet, John Gower has been asked to find a stolen book that may bring down the monarchy. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in London of Richard II, come join me in turning the pages!
When I'm deep into writing a new book, I often reread comfort books because I know I'll enjoy them and there isn't the stress of hunting down new books and maybe not finding something I like. So--currently rereading Jayne Ann Krentz romantic suspense novels. I love her Arcane series, where characters have paranormal, psychic type abilities that are both blessing and curse. WHITE LIES is a particular favorite, where the heroine can always tell if someone is lying. This is a decidedly mixed blessing. <G>
But my current reread is the Dark Legacy duo, COPPER BEACH and DREAM EYES. JAK seldom does families, but the heroes of these two books are brothers, which is fun. Sam Coppersmith, hero of Copper Beach, is the lab guy who is a genius at manipulating crystal energy. When paranormal book finder Abby Radwell needs help, she is sent to him and sparks fly. Quite literally. <G>
Just a month ago Jo was still with us, and she’ll always be in our hearts — and “we will always have a part of Jo with us in her wonderful books,” as Wench Andrea/Cara recently said.
Jo wrote well over forty books and novellas, and we’ve each chosen our “favorites”—a word that loosely applies here. Choosing one or two over others wasn’t easy, but in the end the titles we picked all hold special meaning and resonance for each one of us. Some of us chose the same book. “Great minds and all that,” says Wench Joanna, “but see how differently we talk about it. A book is a collaboration between author and reader,” and the way we may respond to story and characters, and how we absorb and interpret a book, can be unique.
Recently, Jo's son Jonathan took this wonderful photo of his mother's many books--and her glittering collection of RITA awards.
Read our favorite picks -- and then tell us your favorite Jo Beverley books too!
Mary Jo Putney
So what is my favorite Jo Beverley book? This could be a difficult question. How about the stunning My Lady Notorious, first in the Malloren Series? Or how about Lady Beware, because of my unnatural fondness for Darien? Or her most recent, The Viscount Needs a Wife, which is subtle, original, and an overall delight?
And yet the choice turned out to be easy: Emily and the Dark Angel. It's one of her early traditional Regencies. It might have been the first book of hers that I read. It might have won the first (of five!) of her RITAs. Those details I don't remember.
What I do remember is that it is everything a Regency should be: beautifully written, rich with carefully woven historical detail, and superbly characterized, it is one of the best handsome rake/plain heroine books ever. Set in Melton Mowbray, the fashionable fox hunting capital of Regency society, the book features Emily Grantwich, a sensible twenty-six year old who is firmly on the shelf. She competently runs the family estate owned by her invalid father, and enjoys the challenges.
Verderan, the Dark Angel, is a notorious rake who inherits the adjoining estate--and proves that a man must be very charming to make a good rake! The growing relationship between them is both convincing and romantic--and just reading about the book made me pull one of my two copies off the keeper shelf because it's time for a re-read!
I went along my keeper shelf, looking at the old friends. It was pick one up and say, "Oh, yes. That's my favorite." Then I'd see the next one and open it and think, "No. This one is the best."
I sat dithering between Secrets of the Night, (so sensual), and An Arranged Marriage. (Oh, Nicholas. How could I NOT choose you?) And finally settled on An Unwilling Bride. The privileged heir of an aristocratic house and a prickly, radical schoolmistress are forced into marriage. There's resentment and distrust from the start and a chasm of social inequality that causes misunderstanding after misunderstanding.
Not the ingredients of a happy life together.
Many of Jo's books are about the needs and desires of strong men and women confronting the rigid, hierarchical society in which they live. This is the boundary she continually explores. An Unwilling Bride is this conflict in almost pure form. It's the meticulous picking apart of the assumptions and attitudes of Beth and Lucien, two complex people who are so Georgian we believe in them utterly and so universally human that our hearts ache for them.
I love the gradual coming together of Beth and Lucien. I see them working at the relationship, deliberately uncovering their vulnerabilities, being honest. Kindliness and goodwill are as important as desire. I like that. I like to see friendship growing up beside love.
What's special about Jo's work is not that she gets the historical clothing and countryside and forms of address correct. Though she does. Nobody does it better.
It's the strong, honorable people. She gets the people right.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott
What can I say? Trying to pick a favorite Jo Beverley book is like trying to pick a favorite vintage champagne—each has its own uniquely nuanced taste, hue and effervescence but they all possess a brilliant sparkle and leave you feeling blissfully intoxicated! Jo was a master at creating compelling characters whose conflict created stories of depth and complexity. I think readers love her books because they are so real. Flaws, fears, difficult decisions, past mistakes—we all can relate to the struggle to define happiness and the struggle to find love. Her writing resonates with intelligence, a masterful command of language and history, and a true gift for storytelling.
Okay, do I REALLY have to pick a favorite? (She says with a heavy sigh.) If pressed, I guess I have to say An Unwilling Bride. For me it showcases all of Jo’s magnificent talents. She took what to most authors would have been a very difficult storyline and created unforgettable characters and crackling tension, all in such a thoughtful exploration of human nature—and then of course ended with the celebration of love as the ultimate redeeming power.
Love—it’s at the heart of romance books. And Jo, we love you.
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)
by Mary Jo
Today, we're resuming our sadly interrupted anniversary celebration, and I have the pleasure of welcoming Eloisa James and Lauren Willig, both of whom have wonderful insights to share with us.
First up is Eloisa James, who has been a visitor to Word Wenches for both her romance and for her delicious memoir, Paris in Love. Today she ponders romance and what might lie ahead in our genre:
I read widely in romance sub-genres, with the exception of scary Romantic Suspenses. I’m just going to make a more-or-less haphazard list of the trends I’m seeing, skipping Historical because the Word Wenches have that covered. Please tell me in the comments what I’m missing or where I went wrong!!
I’m interviewing Jeannie Lin, writer of most excellent
Historical Romances set in Tang Dynasty China and Steampunk set in an alternate but formidably realistic historical China. She writes love, adventure, complicated family relationship, and high stakes in a world that sets all our assumptions wobbling. These are not your everyday Romances, folks.
This week Jeannie and I celebrate the release of our new novellas — hers and mine — in the e-anthology Gambled Away.
Joanna: Howdy Jeannie. Glad to see you.
Jeannie: Hello! So glad to be back here with the Wenches. Can you believe Gambled Away is finally here?
Joanna: I'm so happy to share an anthology with you. Oddly enough, I think both our stories are, at the core, about women escaping the constraints that narrow and bind their choices. 'Taking their lives into their own hands' as you put it.
My Aimée, in Gideon and the Den of Thieves, was sold into the service of Lazarus, the King Thief of Regency-era London. One does not just walk away from that service. One runs. We see Aimée trying to free herself from Lazarus.
Jeannie: I must admit after reading Lazarus, I had big baddie envy. I want to go back and rewrite the entire last half of my story. *smacks hand* Lazarus is so dark and twisted and complicated! Completely unpredictable.
My crime lords are much more straightforward — they're businessmen. They don't make emotional decisions, which makes them neither evil nor good. Unlike everyone else in the story, they have nothing to hide and their goals are quite clear. It's all the other characters who sneak and lie and betray one another, often times believing they are doing the right thing.
While my Aimée faces the obvious practical problem associated with dwelling among the brutal and larcenous, Wei-wei’s life is more comfortable -- on the surface. But it is not, perhaps, more free.
Jeannie: There's two sides of that coin for me. Chinese women in imperial times are known for being subservient — it's a stereotype often perpetuated in the West. But for me what's interesting is the ways that women have empowered themselves while keeping the illusion that they were not wresting power. When Chinese women were forbidden to write, they came up with their own written language, for instance.
by Mary Jo
Today is Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in military service. As a child, my sibs and I would accompany my father to the city cemetery to place flags on the graves of military veterans. Today, all honor to those who have served.
It’s rather fitting to use this day to wind up our week of mourning for Jo Beverley. It's time for the Word Wenches to return to regular programming, including a more somber continuation of the tenth anniversary of this blog. (I can imagine Jo saying crisply that it's time to pull up our socks and get back to work. <G>)
But today, as a last memorial, we wanted to post a few pictures of Jo, including several given by her family. Here's a nice one taken the day her older son married our Melissa, and she's holding an armful of Cabbage Patch Kids. The Kids are a Beverley family tradition and go to many family events. Jo sometimes made costumes for them. Above on the right is a picture of three Cabbage Patch Kids, and they're ready to party!
Jo loved to travel, and here's a great picture of her and author Barbara Samuel sharing a camel at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the middle of Australia, and perhaps the center of the world. Both had been speakers at a Romance Writers of Australia conference. (That's a very regal camel. <G> Picture courtesy of Barbara Samuel.)
After returning to the UK, Jo and her husband Ken would often spend some weeks in the winter visiting Spain, which makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever experienced a winter in England! Ken took this lovely picture.
And here's my favorite picture of all, contributed by Ken Beverley, showing the two of them in Malaga, Spain. Because what romance writer doesn't want to spend her life with her very own knight in shining armor?
We've spent the last week sharing our thoughts and memories of Jo so thoroughly that it doesn't feel if she's really gone. She's just in the next room, drinking wine with Edith Layton and Georgette Heyer.
I'll finish with this lovely piece posted on the original memorial blog by Jeannette:
Written by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I and you are you.Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we always enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow in it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
by Mary Jo
It is with the deepest of sadness that we announce that our beloved Wench sister, Jo Beverley, died this afternoon. It was not a surprise, but the end came more suddenly than any of us expected.
Jo had quietly been through a very dangerous bout with cancer about five years ago, and had come through with flying colors. The cancer was discovered to have returned some weeks ago, and it moved very quickly. We all hoped for another miracle, but it was not to be. Jo died very peacefully in a lovely care home in Yorkshire that used to be a convent, with her husband and her pal Charlie, the Cabbage Patch Kid, by her side.
A Lancashire lass of Irish descent, she grew up by the sea, and always liked to live near it. She never lost her lovely English accent, but she and her husband Ken moved to Canada not long after university and she became a proud Canadian with dual citizenship. They raised their sons in Ottawa, then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, one of the loveliest small cities in the world.
More recently, she said that "her heart yearned for England," and she and Ken moved back, though they were considering returning to Victoria for good.
There was no one quite like Jo, with her calm English good sense and quiet warmth and dry wit, not to mention her taste for port wine and very dark chocolate. She and I were friends for almost 30 years, and our careers have always tracked very closely. In fact, my first book was published the month before Jo's first book, which pleased Melinda Helfer, the Regency reviewer for Romantic Times Magazine, because that way she could give each of us her Best New Regency Author award for two different years.
Her full name was actually Mary Josephine (mine is Mary Jo), and I'm grateful that she went by Jo, because we were confused often enough as it was! I would graciously accept compliments on my Rogue books, pointing out that they were actually Jo's Rogues. It was an honor to be confused with her. (Add Mary Balogh to the mix, and the confusion grew exponentially!)
I first met Jo at an RWA conference when she was surrounded by enthusiastic Regency readers. (You know how we become fan girls when we meet favorite authors!) We were introduced, chatted, and she mentioned that she wanted to go to the RT conference in San Antonio and needed a roommate. So did I, and that became the first of many conferences where we roomed together, most recently last summer at RWA in New York City.
In San Antonio, Jo's white nighty got rolled up with the sheets and carried off and disappeared into the hotel laundry system. The hotel looked for it and sent her occasional apologetic emails saying there had been a sighting, and surely they'd secure it some day. And they did, mailing the nighty to me because that was cheaper than sending it to Canada, so I presented it to Jo when I saw her next. We had some good chuckles over that.
We all have many memories of Jo, her wonderful smile, her humor and intelligence, and we were lucky enough to secure her daughter-in-law, Melissa Beverley, as our site manager here at Word Wenches. (I see resemblances between Jo and Melissa, too. Including the smiles.)
We invite you to share your memories here, whether you knew Jo in person or only through her books. She won five RITAs--a full basketball team--and many other awards, including the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books deserved all of that and more, and I'm happy to report that she had finished her book for next year, so we have that to look forward to.
But Jo herself has moved on to the next great adventure, and oh! How we will miss her.
(Picture of Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney)
From Anne Gracie:
Like Andrea, I first met Jo at my very first RWA conference in 2001. I was, of course, a huge fan of her work, and so when I saw she was giving a talk I went. Standing room only, so I sat cross-legged in the aisle and listened. The talk was on "Flying Into the Mist" and it felt as though she was speaking directly to me. So inspiring.
I met her briefly afterward and told her how much I'd loved her most recent book, DEVILISH. The following evening she won the RITA with it . (Picture below of Jo with Julia Quinn, also a RITA winner that night.)
She won five RITAs altogether, and has left us all a legacy of most excellent books. A few years later I met her in a more casual and relaxed situation at NINC conferences, where she shared her experience and much wisdom and good common sense.
Some years after that I joined the WordWenches, where we talk almost every day on email, and so our friendship developed. My last memory of seeing Jo in person was when she, Nicola, Mary Jo and I sat around drinking wine in my hotel room at the San Antonio conference, feet up, totally relaxed, just chatting and laughing and telling stories.
Vale, Jo. You will be greatly missed.
(Picture of Anne, Jo, and Cara/Andrea)
At my very first RWA Conference—I was a total newbie who had just sold my first book to Signet, I crept into a seminar Jo was giving. I had read her books, to me she was everything I aspired to be as an author—she understood Life in all its complexities, and crafted beautifully nuanced characters with a poetic command of language that made every word magical.
But in real life she was even more inspiring. She had a regal elegance and grace, and while her voice—with that wonderful English accent—was soft-spoken, there was no mistaking the quiet confidence she had in her craft and her professionalism. She helped pioneer respect for our genre, and that took the same strength, courage and daring to defy convention that she gave to her heroines.
As fellow Word Wench, I was lucky enough to come to know Jo not just as a legendary icon and inspiration but also as a dear friend. In our daily Wench loop conversations she made us laugh with her pithy sense of humor and sharp wit, and when any of us were going through a tough time, she was always there to send a hug, along with support and encouragement.
I have no words to express how much I am going to miss her.
From Pat Rice:
My memory doesn't hold moments, it holds impressions. Like Andrea, I saw Jo as a person of elegance and grace, with a complete command of herself, her audience, and her writing. Her confidence was unshakeable, her knowledge and fascination with history, immense. She adapted quickly to changing tides in the industry, but her voice, her books, her characters, were unchanging in originality and historical accuracy. I will miss her so much, that I cannot imagine how her family must be feeling in this moment. I know she's in a good place, but we who stay behind are bereft.
When Jo Beverley agreed to join a few of us as we began our blog, I remember how thrilled I was that she wanted to be part of the group. Jo was such a legend in historical romance, and deservedly so. In a sense, she was the quintessential romance writer: stories flowed freely through her, heroes and heroines were strong and unforgettable, themes had substance, her language had clarity and richness, her books were masterful, one after another. The connections among her stories were intricately mapped out in brilliant ways, and her sense of history was impeccable--and on top of that powerful combination of elements, she was elegantly English and very, very smart and far-seeing.
As a sister Wench and a friend to all of us behind the scenes of the blog -- where as others have mentioned, we email every day -- Jo was consistently wise and supportive, always a voice of reason, especially when our opinions piled on and we needed to make a decision. Jo was straightforward and had an ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. She often made the most sense, could be gently funny, and we always listened and learned.
Like some of the other Wenches, I first met Jo at a conference when I was very green and timid, and she was--well, she was Jo Beverley, historical romance royalty itself, and I felt so awed by this tall, elegant British woman that I practically curtsied. Jo had an air of confidence and certainty, and never sought to be the center of attention--but she was nonetheless.
Though she was low-key and gracious, she had presence and a wonderful charisma. Her perspective on writing, creativity and publishing was balanced, and she was very open minded and curious about life beyond the world of writing. We had many fascinating discussions and I admired her openness, and over the years my initial respect for her grew to friendship.
The Wenches all deeply care about one another, and this loss shakes our family of Wenches. Jo was a quiet goddess in our midst, and we loved her and we are proud of her.
My heart goes out to her family--her love for her husband, two sons, her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter and her sisters was always evident. Jo will always be a Word Wench, and she will always be missed until we see her again.
From Joanna Bourne:
(Picture of Jo, Cara/Andrea, and Joanna)
It was my first National Conference and long, long ago. I’d smuggled three or four of Jo’s books into the signing hall, which you aren’t supposed to do.
It was one of those lulls in the signing and there was nobody in line in front of her. I sidled over, books in hand, and stood about five feet away, and didn't have the guts to actually, y’know, talk to her.
She looks up. So I laid the books down and said I-really-enjoy-your-writing-An-Unwilling-Bride-is-my-favorite-book-in-the-world-you-just-nail-the-aristocratic-Georgian-world-view-and . . .
I may have repeated myself a bit.
She signed the books and said, “Thank you. It’s one of my favorites, too.” After a while I backed slowly away.
I never told her about that meeting. I wish I had. She would probably have laughed.
From Nicola Cornick:
Like a number of other Wenches, I first met Jo at my very first RWA Conference in Dallas in 2003. Totally overawed, I approached her to sign a book for me and she was so gracious and charming it only served to awe me more. Since then I have got to know Jo though the Wenches and at the RWA and RNA conferences. What always struck me about her, along with her beautifully distinctive writing voice, was her wisdom and the generosity with which she shared it. I remember one very stimulating discussion at RNA Penrith about the differences between the US and the UK romance markets and I treasure those rare occasions when the Wenches met up for wine and laughter. Reading people’s memories and tributes to Jo has brought home to me how very much she is missed by all who knew her.
Please tell what you remember about Jo--
Picture at left of Jo at an NAL booksigning with Cara/Andrea behind her. Reader and writer Louisa Cornell is in pink.
Special thanks to Anne Gracie for producing all these wonderful pictures at a moment's notice.
PS: So many marvelous comments and memories and poems have been posted here. I have smiles and tears as I read them. It's impossible to respond to all of the comments directly, but all of us Wenches deeply appreciate this shared celebration of Jo's life and work. We'll see that her family receives a copy of all the tributes later.--MJP
by Mary Jo
Can you believe it? Today is the 10th anniversary of this blog--that's 597 years in internet time, you know. <G> The world has changed, publishing has changed, we've all changed--yet here we are, still musing about romance and history, interviewing interesting guests, and inviting you all to join in the conversation!
The idea for a historical romance writers' blog was sparked when Susan King and I were having lunch with Eileen Buckholtz, our friend and web wizard, and she suggested that since we were interested in blogging, a group blog was the way to go: more content, less work. <G> This sounded like a fine idea to us, so Susan and I listed people we'd love to have join us. To my surprise, everyone we asked agreed, and a blog was born. Sherrie Holmes, our first site manager and cat herder, came up with the name Word Wenches, which we all loved, and here we are, ten years later.
I believe we're the only romance blog to have published two Christmas anthologies, Mischief and Mistletoe and The Last Chance Christmas Ball, both with Kensington. Both were great fun to write.
To celebrate this anniversary, we decided to invite back a few former guests to muse or reminisce with us. Because we received such thoughtful responses, we'll be posting every day this week, with Friday being wrap up comments from all of us Wenches.
And because we love giving books away, we'll be doing eight giveaways to eight lucky commenters from our Anniversary Week celebration. (Winners to be chosen by the end of May.) Let the celebration begin!
Our first guest: Candice Hern, one of the old gang of Signet Regency writers where so many Regency writers started our writing careers. Candice is not only a fine writer who has one of the best Regency websites anywhere, but because she was already an experienced blogger, she was extremely helpful when we started our own blog. Thank you, Candice!
Congratulations, Word Wenches, on your first TEN YEARS!
Quite a milestone on the internet. Not many group blogs survive that long. I have been reading your blog since Day 1 and continue to do so. I always learn something new, especially when one of you dives into an historical research topic. I love the diversity of the group, both in your books and your blog posts. (And I still miss Edith.) Here's wishing you all another ten years of entertaining and educating those of us who love historical romance. Way to go, ladies!
Next up: Mary Balogh. A romance star ever since her first Signet Regency was published a lot of years ago, Mary offers these insights:
Where Romance is going:
Romance is going in whatever direction the imaginations of romance writers take it—or should I say directions? In the past several years we have seen it explode into innumerable sub-genres and trends, some of them enduring, some not.
I decided almost as soon as I started writing more than thirty years ago (ouch!) that I would no longer read romance or take any notice of trends or jump on any bandwagons. I cheat (a lot) on that first decision, but even so I would say that 90% of my reading is non-romance. So who am I to talk about where romance is going? I will continue to follow my own imagination for as long as I am willing and able and as long as I still have readers.
One thing that has pleased me greatly this month of May is the almost overwhelmingly positive response I have had to my new book, Only Beloved, the final book of the Survivors’ Club series. The hero is 48, the heroine 39. I held my breath as the publication day dawned. But readers had no objection to the older characters.
The same thing happened with the novella that came out with one of Grace Burrowes’s in Once Upon a Dream in April. The hero and heroine are both 40 or close to it. With so many aging authors still writing (ahem) and so many aging readers still reading, maybe this is one direction I will take more often in the future. Love, even romantic love, is not an exclusive preserve of the young, after all, is it?
And on the subject of the passing of time…congratulations Word Wenches for keeping your really excellent and intelligent blog site going for ten years. That is a remarkable achievement. May you continue for at least ten more.
To wrap up today's posting, Carola Dunn joins us. She started out writing Walker Regencies, which were the first such romances I discovered in the library when I began to look beyond my well worn Georgette Heyers. She moved from Regency romance into historical mysteries--I've been obsessively following her 1920's set Daisy Dalrymple series for years--and like Mary Balogh, she has some thoughts about older characters.
Pass Time with Good Company
I wrote my first Regency 37 years ago (Toblethorpe Manor, published 1981) and followed it with 31 more, as well as a bunch of novellas. As in most romances, the heroines were almost all youthful—even the oldest, at 42, seems youthful from my present age! When I started writing mysteries, I made my amateur sleuth, Daisy Dalrymple, 25. For reasons I won’t go into, over the course of 23 books she’s aged by only 5 years.
A decade ago, after turning 60, I decided I wanted a protagonist nearer my own
age. That was the genesis of Eleanor Trewynn, the main character of my Cornish mysteries. For many years, she and Daisy have been living in my head. Luckily, I find them excellent company. It’s gratifying to hear from so many readers that they too think of Daisy and Eleanor as good friends they want to spend more time with.
Thank you, Candice, Mary, and Carola! You've all created wonderful characters we want to spend more time with. (And you're all on my personal keeper shelves.)
Visit Word Wenches again tomorrow, when the inimitable Eloisa James and Lauren Willig will share their thoughts on romance! And remember, commenters might win books, and what reader doesn't love winning books?
Posted by MaryJoPutney on Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 08:40 PM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, Edith Layton, Guests, History, HWW, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (58)
Anne here. As many of you have already noticed, we're making a few small changes to the WordWench blog, leading up to our 10th anniversary celebrations.
The most obvious is the gorgeous new banner, designed by wench Andrea/Cara, in consultation with us all. We love it — what do you think?
Last year, our long-time blogmistress Sherrie retired to spend more time with her beloved animals and work on her own creative projects, and we thank her for all the hard work and enjoyment. The lovely Melissa Beverley (Jo's daughter-in-law) has been managing the blog for some time, and is now feeding in the website changes in increments, as and when her energetic toddler allows it. Melissa's photo has just gone up on the sidebar. We're still experimenting with small and subtle changes (like the new border color) so keep your eyes peeled and let us know how you like it.
Mary Jo will be launching our 10th anniversary celebrations this coming week — stay tuned. We'll be interspersing new posts with posts from some guest authors, and a few golden oldie posts from the past. And there will be giveaways.
Let's say you're a rich man in 1800. You own a house in town and have an estate in the country. Maybe you own manufacturies or mills. You buy expensive clothes and horses and carriages. You shower jewels upon your womenfolk. But at the end of the day, you still have more money than you know what to do with.
You could gamble, of course. Many men and women managed to subdue a rising fortune by gambling it away.
But let's say you had no taste for throwing money away on the green baize table. Let's say you go ... collecting. Collecting art, in particular. Where? How? What? Inquiring minds want to know.
In the mid Eighteenth Century there was the 'Grand Tour' of course. A fashionable quest for sophistication had long sent rich young Englishmen off to the Continent to buy Old Masters and Etruscan pots and a good many well-made fakes. They carted them home to decorate the Old Manse.
The art auction achieved its modern form around this time. Rather than the older practice of offering a collection of artworks for sale, each with its proposed price —. this really sounds like a tag sale, doesn't it? — the collection was open for view, and then on the day of sale the auctioneer offered successive artworks and invited bids. Auction madness was born. Much more satisfying, really.
By the end of the Eighteenth Century London housed some of the major auction houses we know today, like Christie's, Phillips, and Sotheby's, as well as others now vanished like Skinner and Dyke, Langford, (with auction rooms at Covent garden,) and Bryant.
Here, to the right, is a portrait, by Gainsborough, of James Christie in 1788, rich in years and honors after two decades and more in the auction business. Sotheby's Auction House is slightly older, but spent the Regency specializing in "scarce and valuable" books rather than paintings. For instance, the library Napoleon carried with him into exile was sold through Sotheby's after his death. Phillips Auction House is solidly Regency, founded in 1796 by the senior clerk at Christie's. I'm sure there is a story behind that.
By the time the Grand Tour was made inconvenient by those troublesome sans culottes in France, the art valuables of France and later the Continent were making their own way to England, fleeing the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars.
Here's what the notice of an impending auction looked like. It's the upcoming sale of drawings belonging to the "Count de Carriere", (count of the stone pit or quarry,) probably the nom d'exile of Etienne Bourgevin Vialart, comte de Saint-Morys.
And here is a typical painting that fled France on the wings of Revolution. Ter Borch's The Music Lesson. It was sold by its French owner through the auction house of Skinner and Dyke in London in 1795. Two centuries later, we find it in California where the weather is better, but it's far, far away from the Netherlands where it was painted.
Our Regency auction would have looked a little like this. The examination of the paintings before the sale is up above. Then the auction itself, below.Click on the picture for a closer look. Notice how many women there are among the bidders, but the main action next to the picture for sale is men.
As usual, we're reading quite a range of books!
From Joanna Bourne:
I’m always happy to read Mary Balogh. This one is Only a Kiss. Very fine. The slow development of the relationship delights me. As always, the romance comes to us in growing trust and understanding between the two protagonists. This one is about letting go of past pain and guilt and finding new love. It’s a gently joyful book for all that as these two find each other.
One of the great ceremonies of Regency life, one that defined gentility, was the taking of tea.
The Regency is sorta midway in the story of tea in England. We’re past the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century with its careful, stingy measuring of tea by the mistress of the household, the leaves locked up safe in a decorative caddy. We haven’t reached the Victorian era where tea was the daily drink of every working man and city housewife.
John MacDonald, a footman in the last half of the Eighteenth Century, would negotiate a salary that included an allowance for tea and sugar. But when he writes:
“My master had always plenty of fine tea, of which I drank some in the afternoon, and with which I treated the maid, and the maid also at the next house.”
I’m pretty sure he’s helping himself to the household store. At this time, tea is still a particular treat belowstairs.
When we come to early Victorian times ... Henry Mayhew, in London Labour and the London Poor, speaking of the 1840s, describes the street sellers.
“There are, moreover, peculiar kinds of stalls — such as the hot eels and hot peas-soup stalls, having tin oval pots, with a small chafing-dish containing a charcoal fire underneath each, to keep the eels or soup hot. The early breakfast stall has two capacious tin cans filled with tea or coffee, kept hot by the means before described.”
In 1840, tea had ceased to be a servants’ perquisite, reluctantly granted by the employer and pilfered by the staff. Now it’s on the street. It’s Everyman’s drink.
But back to the parlor ...
The taking of tea in the parlor meant slow, stylized ritual and unnecessary elaboration. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the hurried dipping tea out of a capacious tin can.
Consider this spread of tea complication.
Going along from the left:
Teapot with its lid. Behind it, the tea caddy where the tea leaves live. In front of the tea pot, a cup, saucer, and silver spoon. The center spot on this tray is a shallow plate with orange slices. It might just as easily hold scones or muffins.
Working our way in from the right:
We have the slops bowl in back. That is a lovely useful thing to have, isn’t it? I kinda wish we had slops bowls for our lives where we could clear all the mess neatly away and go on with the tea party.
What else? There’s the bowl of sugar cubes. These cubes were not neatly square. They were nipped off the two-foot-high cone of sugar kept in the kitchen and came out irregular and all nobbly shaped. Over the sugar bowl are the sugar tongs. And here at the front of the sugar bowl is the milk jug.
Missing from this set is the strainer. About all the paintings I find of folks drinking tea,
the tea strainer is nowhere in evidence. Yet they had them. They’re in museums. One would certainly have strained the tea leaves out of the drink at some point. Maybe they were considered too messy to put in the picture.
Also missing from this array is the kettle of hot water that sat over on the hearth
keeping warm. The water would be used to warm up and dilute the tea in the teapot. You couldn’t hoist the teabags out of the water and put an end to the brewing, there not being any teabags yet. However long the tea party lasted, that was how long the tea steeped.
Here we have folks taking tea and the kettle is right there in evidence. One could also have a tea urn or samovar with coals under it, keeping warm, right there on the table.
This here is a silver tea kettle that would have had pride of place. The comment on this piece at the Victoria and Albert:
“The tea kettle and stand would have been the most expensive part of the tea service. For example, Mrs. Coke paid the goldsmith ... £25 13s 1d for her kettle and lamp. Her teapot cost just £10 1s 8d.”
That comparative value is not set in stone. The best porcelain would cost more than uninspired silver, but all things being equal, a silver tea service was the conspicuous consumption of the time. When the aged retainer staggers in with a tea tray full of silver teapots and silver slop bowls and what have you, it’s not just heavy. It’s (staggeringly) expensive.
But by the Regency, not all tea was drunk in the parlor with such magnificent display.
We also have a cozier, more informal tea taking. One little pot of tea, prepared in the kitchen and brought up with a cup or two at the side. That was the tea laid down at the hero’s elbow while he worked on his accounts or the tea brought to the heroine and her sister as they put their heads together and plotted.
This is my tea service there on the left. Rough and ready. But see that tea pot? It is of an ancient design. See it there in the painting by Chardin? And the little tea bowl is handmade by an artist in such things. I’m happy using this set. It makes me feel good, every time.
Do you have a tea set or a coffee service that is a joy to hold in your hands? Maybe something you inherited or bought at a special time of your life. Maybe a present.
From Mary Jo:
For a change of pace this month, we're going to talk about good books that we've loved, but which might have fallen from view for one reason or another. This is not exactly the same as comfort reads, though there is some overlap. So here are some overlooked books that we enjoy, and maybe you will, too!
I was inspired to suggest this topic to the other Wenches when I saw that Again by Kathleen Gilles Seidel is now available as an e-book. A two time RITA winner, Kathy writes books that are subtle, intelligent, deeply observed, and dryly funny. Again is probably my favorite. The heroine, Jenny Cotton, is head writer for a historical soap opera set in the Regency, and the show's Brooklyn studio and earnest young actors are home and family to her. The Canadian hero, Alec Cameron, is a star of daytime television who was the lead in a soap series that bombed big time, so he's happy when Jenny casts him as a cranky duke.
Pretty soon Alec is falling for Jenny, who is way too loyal to her long time boyfriend, who is also in the cast. And she has a bad habit of working out her emotional issues through the characters on her show. Unfortunately, Alec's character is given all the traits she doesn't like in her boyfriend, while the boyfriend's part is sounding more and more like Alec--and Jenny won't admit it. <G> In some ways, the book is dated--no cell phones and daytime television has changed enormously, among other things--but the book is still marvelous--smart and funny and wise, and very satisfying. I enjoyed the story this time as much as when I first read it in the early '90s. You might want to take a look--Again didn't win a RITA for best single title contemporary romance by accident. <G>
Our question for today: If you won the lottery (mega-millions) would you keep on writing? Would it change what you write?
Winning mega-millions is a lovely daydream we can all enjoy, even if we don’t buy tickets, which I don’t. A million dollars these days, even after taxes, isn’t enough to buy a decent house where we live. But mega-millions: the mind goes wild. I could start entire industries in poverty-stricken areas. But I’m a writer and a first-class introvert and realistically, I know I wouldn’t be that brave, smart, or knowledgeable. So I’d probably divide up the money among family, give a huge chunk to charities that might build those industries, save a bit for emergencies and travel… and then finish writing those books I’ve started about four lucky people who share a mega-million lottery.
But as a writer of historical romance, the only lucky characters I've written are the ones in my Rebellious Sons series, with their mysterious two-thousand pound inheritances. In the Regency, that was a nice sum for a young couple to start a life on!
I was cleaning ashes out the woodstove today and putting aside some of the fireplace tools to carry out onto the porch to polish and get ready for storage for the summer.
Not all of them. Just the ones I don’t use often. I’m mostly done with the wood heat for the year, but there’ll be one or two more fires to light on cool evenings. From here on out it’s just for enjoyment. Just for the beauty.
Anyhow, I was considering my woodstove which is fairly sophisticated as woodstoves go. It’s covered with pretty tile and has fancy corrugations inside that do something about fire efficiency. There’s flues. There's a trap in the bottom to remove ashes while the stove is in operation. There’s thermal insulating rope around the door that has to be replaced every couple of years which is why I know about it. It has a thermal glass door. Thermal glass!
Space age woodstove.
But my array of fireplace tools would settle comfortably next to my Regency heroine’s bedroom hearth. Or Elizabeth Tudor’s hearth. There is a perfection of form and design that’s brought these humble implements through centuries unchanged.
So. What do I have? Leesee ...
A poker. Actually I have two. No idea how I ended up with two but I can’t bring myself to throw out the extra one.
You see, if I were a Regency heroine and were menaced by the villain, I’d bop him over the head with a poker and be perfectly safe.
But what if there were two villains? Huh? What then?
Nobody ever thinks about that.
Susan here, presenting our February choices for WWR—What We’re Reading—and more. Over these last wintry weeks all around the globe (in cold, balmy, rainy or hot weather!), some of us have been watching more than reading lately, from movies to TV detectives to puppies. Scroll down for our favorite picks, and let us know what you’ve been reading and/or watching lately too. And happy Leap Year today, February 29 -- especially to any Leap Year birthdays out there!
Anne here, doing a bit of a catch-up of my reading. We ended up talking about "comfort reads" for our WWR in November, and so I never mentioned my new read of Carla Kelly's Doing No Harm, which I really enjoyed. As well this month, I've continued my glom of Robin Hobb books and have now read my way through most of her backlist. Can't wait for Assassin's Fate, which will be out in 2017.
I've also finished the five Sharon Shinn "angel" series book that started with Archangel — well worth reading.
I've also been catching up on Louise Penny and have read How The Light Gets In and The Long Way Home, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It might look as though I've read no romance this month, but actually I've been reading books for the Romance Writers of America RITA competition. But I can't talk about them, so that's all folks from me for now.
I’ve recently enjoyed a warm-hearted cozy mystery, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement. On Siesta Key everybody’s favorite pet sitter, (and former sheriff’s deputy,) Dixie Hemingway, gets involved in a bizarre murder.
I’ll admit I was less interested in who killed whom than in the beleaguered iguana who witnessed it all. Dixie’s passionate defense of all that yowls and scratches and sheds feathers warmed my heart. Way to go, Dixie.
My other book this month is Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning. In Victorian England, Veronica Speedwell, an intrepid and liberated lepidopterist, meets Stoker, enigmatic, bad-tempered naturalist. Murder, attempted kidnapping, taxidermy, and life in a travelling circus enliven the pair’s flight through the English countryside.
Who is the criminal mastermind chasing them and what does he want? When do Veronica and Stoker make love?
Is elephant taxidermy even possible under these circumstances?
This is Book One in the series. We’ll find out ...
This month I seem to have spent a disproportionate time watching Ethel, the new Guide Dog puppy. Ethel is 12 weeks old now and very quick to learn. She has already started her guide dog training. At home, though, she is just like any other puppy and loves play and cuddles. It’s extraordinary how much time I can spend simply watching her enjoying discovering things like her reflection, or wrestling with her toys.
In between Ethel, writing and other stuff I have also managed to watch The Night Manager, the new adaptation of the book by John Le Carré that is on the BBC at the moment. It’s superb, but then I could watch Tom Hiddleston in almost anything. I have to confess that I have never read Le Carré but I have enjoyed the TV and film adaptations I’ve seen. Although I enjoy thrillers I don't tend to read spy stories yet I always enjoy watching them. In The Night Manager the plotting is tight and suspenseful, the characterisation is clear and compelling and I have fun trying to stay ahead of the twists!
I’m in another reading slump, with nothing but Jo’s fabulous The Viscount Takes A Wife to keep me going. But I have actually been watching some television. We don’t get any of the fancy channels—we have to hunt HBO shows on Netflix—so most of my TV watching is on the main networks. I’ve loved Elementary since its inception but there are two new shows that we’re following—Lucifer, and You, Me, and the Apocalypse.
Lucifer, on Fox, is based on a line from Neil Gaiman about the devil taking a vacation—a fascinating concept in itself. The show opens with Lucifer Morningstar running an exclusive bar and dance club. He has his hellish protector tending bar and an angel trying to persuade him back where he belongs because all hell is well…going to hell. Then someone gets murdered, and he wants justice—or to throw the guy in hell, that’s not real clear. And that’s the main problem with the show—the storyline doesn’t seem to be absolutely certain if the devil is evil or not. He flashes evil when he catches his victims but most of the time, he smirks and is charming enough to want to slap him. Watch a few episodes and let me know what you think.
The other show, NBC's You, Me, and the Apocalypse, is just simply brilliant—the writing, the acting, the concept… I’m totally loving it. The concept is that a meteor is about to strike the earth in 30 days and everyone is going to die. But our main hero has just discovered he has a twin brother who has made off with his wife five years ago, and he’s more interested in finding her than any comet. Then we have the innocent nun and the sardonic priest (Rob Lowe) who are searching for the savior, hoping for the second coming. If that’s not enough, we have the loving mother who has gone to jail for her hacker son, and broken out along with a crazed killer during a riot. She’s trying to reach her son, who might have the key to the whole crisis—while his uncle is busy stockpiling a bunker for the chosen few. Aw c’mon, you want to see it, don’t you? It’s high class lunacy!
I’ll endorse You, Me, and the Apocalypse. Zany, and mostly very British. I can add that I'm enjoying a new series of Vera, a police show set in Northumberland, with a frumpy, middle-aged woman as the police chief, and she's a great, strong character. It's always nice to see something set in the far North.
A while back I mostly enjoyed The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell's books about the early years of King Alfred's reign. It's quite violent, and Uhtred, the protagonist, is often very macho-man stupid, which I think is the point. Cornwell does no-nonsense warrior heroes very well. They don't angst over war; they get on with it and mostly enjoy it.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott:
I’m not much of a television watcher, but recently a friend was needling me about missing great dialogue and plotting by not being a couch potato—and then went on to recommend a show that’s in its eighth season as something I might like, as it involves a handsome and charming bestselling crime author shadowing a very attractive female police homicide detective for “research.” I promptly went to the library to check out the first season, and now have been binge watching ABC's Castle, which I find quite fun. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the cast of characters quite interesting. The initial banter has slowly deepened to more nuanced relationship, and the way the backstories unfold is very well done. I’m hooked.
And then there is The West Wing. Yup, never watched that either, though I had always heard good things about it (she says, ducking rotten tomatoes being lobbed at her head). So have been dabbling in that too, and greatly enjoying the ensemble acting, and the weaving of relationships. It’s fascinating to watch how screenwriters develop ideas—and I really have learned a lot about craft, as well as simply an entertaining story!
Mary Jo Putney:
Hey, no fair that Cara/Andrea got to Castle first! I don't watch actual television, but if there's a series I like, I buy the DVDs and we watch them in blessed commercial-free comfort on the weekends. We tend to watch science fiction series and mysteries with humor, but we've been on a real Castle kick lately--not the most recent episodes, but starting over from the beginning of the series just because we were running out of current episodes.
I love the fact that the eponymous Richard Castle is a bestselling mystery writer, with all the mixed arrogance and insecurity of his breed. His outside of the box thinking and ability to assemble clues into a narrative help him solve murders. I love his very smart teenage daughter and his flamboyant actress mother, who humanize him.
And I love Detective Kate Beckett, who is as intelligent as she is gorgeous and who is a perfect contrast to Castle, and an eventual love interest. There is sometimes darkness, but also a lot of wit and warmth, and very twisty plotting with masses of red herrings. Plus, there are often elements of a happy ending, which isn't true of all mystery series. There's a lovely cast of secondary characters, including Kate's team members, detectives Esposito and Ryan. All are well developed and they grow over time. Fun, even the second time around!
With not much reading time lately, I’ve had lots of busy family time and also some copyediting to do—which I sometimes do in front of the TV if it’s small stuff so I can hang out with The Guys in the house—so I’ve done more watching than reading in February. Like Pat, I’ve enjoyed Lucifer for its charm and wry humor, sometimes with an intriguing dark twist. Another we discovered on Hulu was Daredevil—about the comic book hero who is a blind and dedicated lawyer for the underdog by day and a tough, clever vigilante by night. I loved it, loved the character development and story twists and especially love the fascinating hero of this series. We’ll tune in for the next season!
We also watched the first season of The Expanse on Syfy—an intelligent, complex, gritty and fascinating series set in the far future when Earth, Mars and all in between has been settled as active and competitive territories. Based on the book series by James S.A. Corey, an author duo, the smart writing, layered characters and high production values make this a worthy new sci fi series with real staying power, and it’s just been greenlighted for another ten episodes. The TV fans in my house are very pleased.
What have you been reading and/or watching lately? We're always happy to add more titles to our to-be-read stacks and to-be-watched lists, too!
Joanna here. Having spent yesterday, Valentine's Day, exploring all the ways we can be in love. (Yeah love!) I thought I'd take today to look at the conflicts that hold our hero and heroine apart.
What kind of conflicts do we choose for our hero and heroine? How do we write them?
So I asked the Wenches.
"Conflict" is a term often misunderstood by new writers, who think it means a lot of arguments and yelling. A better term is "the source of tension" which can be really powerful with no yelling at all. It's the central story problem that is preventing characters from reaching their goals.
For me, there are two main main sources of conflict -- situational (where he wants X and she wants Y -- or they both want X for different reasons) and character-based conflict. For me the latter is almost always the main one, though I'm happier if I have both kinds working together, playing off each other. Character conflict is where the hopes and dreams and deeply hidden fears drive the characters, and they have to work through them to find their happily-ever-after. Think "What does s/he want? Why can't s/he have it?"
For instance, in my book The Autumn Bride, apart from the usual misunderstandings between the hero and the heroine, there are two main sources of conflict. The first is that she's living under a false identity, but that's a relatively small conflict, fairly easily solved. A bigger conflict, especially for the hero is that he's made a promise to marry another woman, a promise to which money was attached -- part of a significant loan agreement with the woman's father. It's not just a matter of changing his mind -- it's breaking his word, which is his bond. He's a man who lost everything as a youth -- his future, his position and his whole sense of self was stripped from him, but his honor -- his word of honor -- is the one thing in his life that nobody could take from him, so to break it now is a major conflict for him.
I love that conflict in The Autumn Bride because it's a choice between love and honor. I'm a sucker for those.
In some books, the conflict can be less clear cut. There's plenty to keep them apart. What's needed is equally strong bonds to draw them together.
Conflict in a romance novel is a complex subject for all the reasons given, but it's whatever believably gets between the couple and their final happiness. It's different in every book.
My next book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, is a marriage of convenience story, and they always come with built-in stresses and problems. Sometimes the couple are enemies, but even if not, making a marriage with a stranger is a pretty tricky thing! Kitty is a widow, so marriage itself isn't odd to her, but her husband seems to suit his title -- he's daunting. In addition, the behavior patterns from her eight year marriage lurk to make difficulties. As they would.
The new Lord Dauntry is already troubled, because he doesn't want a title or the responsibilities that come with it. He had a comfortable life as a bachelor in London, and occasional security work for the government to ward off boredom. He thinks a sensible wife will take his rural responsibilities off his shoulders and should be no trouble at all. Ha!
But this is the beginning. I find conflicts change and grow throughout a book, and as Kitty and Dauntry find ways to get along, new problems rise. And then, as surprising to me as to them, they discover that they share apparently impossible hopes and dreams. It's scaling those new high walls that powers the latter part of the book. The Viscount Needs a Wife will be out in April, but it can be ordered now. There's more here.
Choose a conflict? We get to choose our own conflicts?
Sorry, I just had a moment of process panic… We all approach a book differently. I start with characters and a situation. These people pop into my head, nattering at each other, and they keep getting stronger and demanding that I listen, so I start taking notes.
I try really hard to define their characters, their motives, their goals, their flaws, all that good stuff, before I start writing. And the best way to develop conflict, for me, is to look at that list of traits and goals and see where one character opposes the other. He’s an astronomer…she’s an astrologer. How could that go wrong? He’s building telescopes and gazing at the stars…she’s drawing zodiac charts and telling him he’s going to die. Cheerful little devil, isn’t she? (That's Magic in the Stars, coming out March 29, 2016)
And somewhere thereafter, they’re off and running and I just let them go. I’m not saying I advise listening to those voices in your head, mind you. Because that’s just crazy. <G>
Cara has a somewhat similar approach to mapping out the conflict of a story.
For me, conflict comes in two elemental forms, and I like to think of it with a Regency metaphor—the plot is like steel, and the characters are like flint, striking against the steel to set off sparks. It’s the internal conflict of the hero and heroine that heats up the story. How they overcome doubts, fears, or whatever challenge stands in the way of achieving happiness is what makes us keep turning the pages.
So . . . how do I going about creating these sparks? I am a total pantser, so don’t ask. I get a story idea, I figure out basic conflicts that are torturing my main characters. For example, in Scandalously Yours, the heroine secretly writes fiery political essays pressing for social reform, but if her secret is made public, her family will be disgraced. The hero is an oh-so conventional lord who believes it’s important never to break the rules of Society. I had a perfectly good plot in mind for them, but by Chapter Two, they gave me the Evil Eye and started to rewrite everything. I was happy to hand them the pen.
Me? My books are set in wartime. You got yer battling nations and divided loyalties. You got yer spies, lies, secrets, betrayals, misdirection, midnight flits, and the occasional gunfire, My heroes and heroines are now and then on opposite sides.
So my problem isn't so much creating the conflict to keep my people apart. There's distrust and cross-purposes scattered thick on the ground. The problem my unfortunate characters face is carving out some little niche of peace to fall in love in. My people have to learn to trust each other . . . and they aren't all that trustable.
In Rogue Spy, for instance, my hero and heroine, Pax and Cami, were children recruited as spies by the French Revolution, both trained to perform horrible deeds, both placed as covert operatives in England. They meet again as adults -- ingenious, dangerous, tough adults who have to wonder if they can allow themselves to love each other.
(P.S. They do the trusting thing, but it takes a while.)
In your own reading, do you have favorite sorts of this-is-what-keeps-them-apart?
Do some sorts of conflicts just annoy you?
Some lucky commenter will win a book of mine. Their choice.
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)
Doubtless you’ve occasionally stopped in your daily round and wondered, “Why do we call a kind of frilly slip a petticoat? Doesn’t that mean ‘Little Coat’ or something like that? You know, French petite meaning small and coat meaning . . . well . . . coat.”
When I think petticoat I think of the Fifties and something frilly and stiff, maybe worn under a poodle skirt.
But petticoats were not always so.
I blame the Plantagenets. Also the Tudors.
Originally the ‘little coat’ was indeed a little coat. Worn by men. In fact, worn by men in battle under their armor.
The petty coat or gambeson was a short padded jacket worn to keep all that warlike fitted metal from chafing those manly muscles. This is not the sort of thing I ponder upon every day, but it occurs to me the simple act of wearing metal was probably fairly uncomfortable all by itself, without any battles going on, not to mention chilly in winter.
Thus the original petty coat. It also likely helped stop edged weaponry that had gotten past the metal layer. Your men-at-arms and peasantry on the march wore a slightly longer, multilayered and quilted version of this as their only protection.
By the end of the Fifteenth Century the petty coat was also a men’s undergarment of the same general form as the military wear. In the Boke of Curtasye, the chainberlain is told to get ready for his lord a clene shirt and breeches, a pettycote, a doublette, a long cote, and a stomacher. The petty coat was worn between the shirt and the doublet
Perhaps it was these civilian versions of the under-armor petty coat that created confusion. By the last half of the Sixteenth Century, a petty coat was also a garment worn by women. It might be a skirt or a skirt with an attached bodice and even sleeves. It could be worn as underclothes or be an outer garment. They were often a startlingly bright red.
The petticoat had jumped the gender barrier and become woman’s clothing. It never looked back.
A hundred years or so later genteel woman’s dress evolved into a combination of gown and petticoat. The skirt of the gown was drawn back to show the petticoat below. The petticoat itself was a gathered skirt, often with a bodice. It had become a highly decorated garment, made of beautiful fabric.
This makes sense of the lines in the song Mary Hamilton,
“Cast off, cast off my gown, she cried,
but let my petticoat be
and tie a napkin round my face,
the gallows I would not see.”
Anyway, from all this you will see there is an old and venerable tradition of underwear/outer wear confusion and no real grounds for objection if folks choose to run about in camisoles, I suppose.
As we approach the Regency the rules change. A new style with slim lines, diaphanous fabrics, and a high waist comes in. Exit the petticoat. For a few decades the undergarment of choice is the plain linen or cotton shift.
ETA: A clothing expert points out that petticoats never really disappeared in the Regency era. The garments worn under a dress might be reduced to a single layer, but it was not always a simple shift or chemise. Sometimes the elaborate design tells us these were meant to be seen.
I am rather wedded to trousers, myself, and out of touch with dresses,
but it might be fun to swish about in petticoats.
Does anyone miss petticoats?
Joanna here, and again we're talking Christmas trees. Yesterday's post was about the many Wench trees of Christmas. Today's post is about my own trees of Christmas past.
Most often, in fact, it's been 'make do with what you can get'.
I remember the Christmas tree of cut-and-taped construction paper in London. That was that year they flew me in to take up work on December 24. (And sent all my luggage, including the presents, off to spend the holidays who knows where.)
In Germany ... Oh, they do Christmas trees with flair and vigor in Germany, that being more or less where the whole Christmas Tree idea comes from. I bought my trees from the Boy Scouts, who were very kind about putting them on top of the car. I bought hand-carved and painted decorations in the Christmas Market. I still have some of those. And I followed the local custom of buying the tree just a day or two before Christmas.
I like that idea of the tree being special for the day. I still put up and decorate my tree just ahead of the Solstice.
In Paris we bought small trees. Chic urban trees. Trees you could balance precariously on the top of your wheelie shopping cart and roll home through the streets, up and down curbs and stairs. Apartment-sized trees. Trees from the town Marché, only a little larger than the huge bouquets of flowers everyone was carting around pour présenter and sold by the same deft and flattering young men.
Nigeria was to Christmas trees utterly unknown. I mean, conifers are a concept pretty much alien to the equatorial ecosystem. So we had a 'Christmas branch'. We'd swipe a fringy palm leaf from the nearest scrub brush area. This would arch in an un-Christmas-tree-like way but was pretty and satisfying unless you have the unshakable conviction that Christmas trees are supposed to stand up straight . The way you do it is you put long strings on the baubles and let them hang down at artistically satisfying lengths.
In the beach market I bought lovely carved angels about two inches high made from the wood of the local thorn trees.
Saudi Arabia was a bit of a challenge, since the sale of Christmas trees was officially forbidden. The garden shops, however, just happened to do a roaring business in potted evergreen landscape shrubs at that time of the year. The proprietor would show us to the selection way out behind the potting sheds. We'd drive around back to discreetly load up our landscape spruce in the jeep and toss a tarp over it on the way home.
Here in the US, I've sometimes bought living trees. I'd dig a hole -- or get one of the kids to dig a hole -- in September or October. Then pick out some baby evergreen, celebrate it for the holidays, and then plant it in the ground after the holidays. Very satisfying.
If I was feeling less proactive I'd take my handsaw and wander up into the woods, of which we have quite a wide selection in this part of the country, and collect a nice little conifer. Best place is some construction site, one jump ahead of the bulldozers. I would think of it as pre-recycling.
And this year, it's been a rosemary Christmas. I bought a rosemary bush and celebrated with tiny trimmings. The smell is wonderful. Just wonderful.
What's your very favorite life-affirming plant for the winter season?
by Mary Jo
Titles are an important part of how books are perceived, so this month's Ask a Wench Question was:
How do you come up with titles? How hard is it? Do titles matter? Have you had your publisher give your books a title you didn't like? And if that's happened, did it sell well? <G>
I’ve written over sixty books and a dozen novellas and coming up with a title only gets more difficult, because by now, I’ve used up every romantic word that can be put on a front cover. And over the last three decades, every possible title has surely been used at least three times, so finding a unique one... requires help, lots of help. (Fresh Christmas title, anyone?)
Before self-publishing, my editor and I used to create long lists of romantic nouns and adjectives and try to piece them together when we couldn’t agree on a title. We’ve come up with the perfect title and been shot down because another author came up with that same title sooner. Now that I’m out here on my own, I call on friends and fellow authors, and when times get desperate, I have social media to fall back on. My new Unexpected Magic series and the first three books were titled entirely by readers, because my friends and I had simply run out of Magic ideas.
If you think that making up titles sounds like fun, sign up for my newsletter http://patriciarice.com/ and see what you’re in for!
Joanna here. I've had the sweep in. This is something chimney owners must do every year. It was particularly necessary in my case because the chimney had got itself all blocked up with hardened soot of some kind and would not, could not, draw — which is discouraging in the extreme for thos who heat with wood.
Anyhow, I called the chimney sweep and in somewhat less than a month, he arrived, complete with long brushes under his arm and expertise in his noggin.
"Peter darling! the sweep's here!"
"Oh. frabjous day! I am coming, my own, my sweep." He pattered down briskly. "What a genius you have for saying the right thing! All my life I have waited to hear those exquisite words, Peter darling, the sweep's come."
Dorothy Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon
To make my chimney-sweeping experience vaguely relevant — I love the word 'relevant'. It was very popular when I was in college — to the holiday season, let me remind everybody that Santa has to come down the chimney and he certainly doesn't want to do that until the thing's been thoroughly swept.
The basic idea of a chimney came to folks independently in many times and places when they noticed the smoke from the fire they'd lit in the middle of the floor was hanging about the place and making them cough before it finally found its way out through the thatch or louvers up near the pitch of the roof.
"We'll chop a hole in the roof and the smoke will go out that way," they said. And indeed it did, but then the rain and snow and passing birds came in and none of this was satisfactory.
However Santa doubtless found entry a snap in those days.
In round about the Sixteenth Century, which is to say maybe four or five thousand years after wattle and daub was the great innovation in the British Isles, folks moved the smoke-escape hole to the side of the dwelling place and ran a masonry chimney down to coax smoke to the outside world. The fireplace lost its central position but remained an area wide open to the room. Folks sat real close, sometimes on benches right in the hearth itself. Most of the smoke escaped up that vent hole. So did most of the heat.
But we're talking about cleaning the thing, aren't we?
If you look up a chimney nowadays and wonder how anyone could possibly wriggle through like a climbing boy — as who among us has not — it's because you're not looking at an Eighteenth Century or earlier wood-burning chimney. Chimney design changed in the Late Georgian period, in part because of . . . coal.
Industrial expansion from Tudor times onward, (and folks would heat their houses,) had made wood scarcer and more expensive, especially near cities. Better transport made coal cheaper. Folks began to keep a scuttle of coal handy to pile on the open fire. Eventually middling folk gave up
their roaring open wood fires altogether, especially in cities like London, and installed grates, piled with coal.
Coal worked efficiently in a smaller fireplace with a smaller chimney. Folks refitted wood-burning chimneys to make them narrower and built new chimneys to a slimmer standard. This changeover was taking place around the Regency, so you can have wood burning in the parlor of some grand house in Grosvenor Square but a cozy coal fire in the governess's room upstairs.
Santa doubtless adapted. He always does.
And chimney sweeps started using stout rods and brushes to clean the flues. That's what my sweep is carrying in a long bag over his shoulder. His set of brushes.