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sholmes46 [at] centurytel.net
Writing a Scottish-set Regency series has been great fun. It’s allowed me to mix romance, danger, adventure, pirates and whisky smugglers with wonderful settings, feisty heroines and gorgeous heroes. I’ve been able to draw on my many trips to the Highlands and to do lots of research into everything from bagpipes to shipwrecks. I’ve flown to Fair Isle and walked the walls of ruined castles. I love my job!
Particularly lovely has been the reader feedback; I’ve already been asked if there will be any more Scottish Brides books and because I always enjoy revisiting a series, I’d never say never. There are some characters who are already asking for a sequel… One reader told me that they wanted to join the Highland Ladies Bluestocking Society, the club that two of my heroines belong to. I'd like to be a member too!
The idea for the Bluestocking Society arose from my reading about the Scottish enlightenment and the discussions and intellectual meetings that took place mainly in Edinburgh. The Poker Club, the Select Society and the Oyster Club were examples of real Scottish clubs where scientists, writers and thinkers met to discuss ideas and eat delicacies such as salt haddock. These were male-dominated (as in the picture) but it struck me that well-to-do, independent minded women could also form their own society. The members of the Highland Ladies Bluestocking Society discuss books and reading but they also have an improper side and an interest in activities as various as life drawing and belly dancing!
This is the July What We’re Reading. This month though, we’ve decided to shake it up a bit and call it “What Wenches Recommend.” This could be anything from books to food to places to visit or anything you like. So once you’ve seen a few of our favourite things this month, let us know your recommendations too!
First up, an old favourite from Pat:
I've not had a lot of good luck with books this month, but found a complete collection of the Jeeves and Wooster series with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. We'd not seen all of them so really enjoyed catching up on missed episodes. If you haven't read the original P.G.Wodehouse stories, give some of them a try first so you can see how beautifully they carry out these characters!
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 12:09 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Food and Drink, Guests, History, HWW, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, Travel | Permalink | Comments (19)
Nicola here. Today I’m reflecting on the sorts of story ideas that catch our imagination. Last week on my way to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference I called in at Boscobel House in Shropshire to do a spot of research. Boscobel is the house where King Charles II hid from the Roundheads after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The story is very famous; hunted by Cromwell’s soldiers in the aftermath of the battle, Charles took refuge in an oak tree in the forest that surrounded Boscobel and he and his officer Captain William Careless (not the most confidence-inspiring name!) slept in the branches whilst the Roundheads scoured the forest around him. Later, cold, wet and in low spirits, Charles was taken to Boscobel House where he took dinner, dried his clothes before the fire and slept in a hiding place in the attic.
Anne here, pondering about how this world of ours is shrinking. Quite a few of my friends are heading overseas at the moment — some are already there, some have recently returned home, one is on a plane as we speak, and plenty more are preparing to go in the next few weeks. And they're not short journeys, either — in every case their destination is the other side of the world, changing hemispheres and seasons, as well as countries.
When I was a kid, the world was an enormous, unknowable place, and not only because I was a child, with a child's perspective. It was full of pockets of mystery. Timbuktoo was more or less a place of myth, a storybook place somewhere in the far, far beyond. Now several of my friends have been there. I have the postcards to prove it.
The summer equinox arrived this past weekend, which always puts me in a very travel frame of mind. Long days, glorious golden light, balmy nights—they seem to sing a siren’s song, beckoning one to set out and experience new sights, new settings.
Now, those of us traveling today just whip out our i-phones and snap away merrily, recording our peregrinations with the mere flick of a finger. Regency travelers required far more skill to capture the essence of a place—and so in homage to the art of travel, thought I’d share a small sketch of one of my favorite artists of the era.
“Had Bonington lived, I would have starved.” —JMW Turner
Despite his short life—he died of tuberculosis at age 26—Richard Parkes Bonington is recognized as master of the Romantic era. His brilliant rendering of light and his ability to capture the magic of a seemingly mundane moment earned him the highest accolades from his contemporaries—including Turner and Eugene Delacroix, with whom he shared a studio for a short time.
A good convention is enhanced by having a dealer room, which sff cons have always known. Romantic Times conventions are going in the same delightful direction, which is how I came to meet Renee Huff, who had traveled down from Kansas to New Orleans to set up a jewelry booth. She had a range of styles, but of course I was drawn to the antique pieces.
In particular, I was attracted to a lovely Victorian chain unlike any other I've ever seen. Renee explained that it was called a book chain because the links were shaped like little books, and the piece was gold over brass. The links are hollow, so the necklace is very light weight, a big plus. There was also a locket with a garnet, and I love garnets. I put it on. I took it off, I considered.(Click on the image to enlarge and you'll see the wonderful detail. For all pictures, hover your cursor over the image to see a description of the piece displayed.)
Nicola here. One thing that always interests me about the castles and old houses I visit is the different stages in their life; the way in which their purpose changes over the years and so they change shape and the usage of the rooms varies and the gardens are altered and each generation develops the property and leaves their mark on their home. It struck me recently as we planned some renovations to our cottage that the process we go through is not so different from that of grand builders of stately homes, only on a much smaller scale! (The picture is Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight - more on that later.)
Ashdown House, for example, was used as a hunting lodge for several hundred years and so was not lived in permanently. It therefore remained architecturally unaltered all that time because there was no change in its purpose and so no need to spend money on alterations. However the moment the Victorian Cravens decided to take up residence there on a full time basis, they changed it completely. The house was too small to be an aristocratic family home so they extended it, just as people build extensions now. They added two wings, with a ballroom, a smoking room and a billiards room, and most importantly, one suspects, they built servants’ quarters to house the thirty eight people who waited on them! The gardens were also considered too plain so they remodelled them as well with a fashionable Italianate parterre garden that was all the rage in the mid-nineteenth century.
In contrast, the Romantic Times conferences are a great big rollicking party. <G> There are actually a lot of very good workshops at RT (I was on three panels), but it's first and foremost a conference for readers. The authors are there as bait, to see our friends, and to promo our books.
A major reason I opted for this recent conference is because I love New Orleans. It's a great city and we were right on the edge of the French quarter. Go out the front of the hotel, and there was Canal Street. Go out through the garage and there you are on a very narrow little street with great little restaurants and shops.
by Mary Jo
When I blogged about our cruise on the upper Amazon, , I threatened another blog about Lima, the capital city of Peru. I don't make idle threats. <G> But never fear, mostly I'm going to show pictures.
I spent very little time there, just two overnights in a hotel, and a coach tour of city highlights the morning before we flew into Amazonia to catch our cruise boat, but Lima made a strong impression on me.
Peru itself is a fascinating country, sharply divided into three distinct climate zones. The coastal area where Lima is located is harsh, narrow desert, and the city's microclimate produces months of fog but almost no rain despite its closeness to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the city's water comes from rivers that flow down from the Andes, the dramatic mountain backbone of the country. (Luckily, our touring day was lovely and sunny.)
by Mary Jo
TWO Word Wenches releases are due on April 1st! An abundance of good reading. I waved my hand first to claim an ARC for Anne's The Winter Bride. This second book of her Chance Sisters Quartet is another delight. (Abby's story, The Autumn Bride () was first in the series, and chosen by Library Journal as one of the Top Ten Romances of 2013. AND has just been listed as an RWA RITA finalist!)
by Mary Jo
The Word Wenches have always taken a global view of the romance community of readers, writers, and publishers. As I like to say, the sun never sets on the Wench empire since we have authors from the US, the UK, and Australia, and I like to count Jo Beverley twice because of her many years in Canada. <G>
But there are English speaking authors in other countries as well, and one is my friend Alissa Baxter, a South African. Alissa started her writing career with traditional Regencies, which are still available as e-books at RegencyReads.com. I connected with Alissa and her mother, Tess Baxter, through our mutual love of Regencies, and we've been friends ever since.
Writers like to try new things, and Alissa became the first author to have a chicklit novel published by a South African publisher. I really enjoyed Send and Receive because it captured the essence of what it's like to be young, single--and South African. Young and single is universal--I liked the way every single guy the heroine meets is evaluated at least briefly as a potential mate before Angie finds The One. At the same time, I was intrigued by the South African setting and the cast of young people trying to find their place in the world.
These days when we talk about Amazon, we're probably referring to the mega-selling online site, but I'm just back from a visit to the real Amazon, and it certainly explains why Jeff Bezos chose to name his company after the mightiest river in the world.
Statistics abound: the water flow is greater than the next seven rivers combined. The world's largest drainage basin by far. The estuary at its mouth is 150 miles wide. The Amazon Basin includes parts of nine different nations. No wonder it's sometimes called the "River Sea."
The Amazon is a distant place of jungle and danger, myth and mystery, and Sean Connery movies. Naturally the Mayhem Consultant and I wanted to visit. <G> For several years, I've been eyeing an Upper Amazon cruise offered by the partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and the National Geographic Society.
Nicola here! Today I’m welcoming Christina Courtenay back to the Word Wenches to talk about her latest time slip novel, The Secret Kiss of Darkness. Christina is a multi-award winning author of historical romantic fiction and as I am a huge fan of time slip novels I couldn’t wait to quiz her about her latest book!
Christina, welcome back to the Word Wenches! Please tell us a little bit about The Secret Kiss of Darkness.
The Secret Kiss of Darkness is a time slip novel set in Devon, in the south-west of the UK. The heroine in the present has her life totally disrupted when she almost bankrupts herself to buy a portrait of a mysterious 18th century gentleman at an auction. There’s forbidden love, smugglers and romance, as well as a gypsy’s spell!
The story was inspired by a Van Dyck painting in the National Gallery here in London, which looked so real I thought the man portrayed was going to start talking to me any minute! I swear his eyes followed my every move. It was very spooky but brilliant as it gave me the idea for this novel.
by Mary Jo
I've long believed that much of the impetus behind the British empire was a desire to own lots of warm, sunny real estate. And very successful they were, too! Jamaica was one of the earliest possessions, taken from the Spanish in 1655.
The island is rich and fertile and beautiful, and it became the world's greatest producer of sugar for a very long time. (With all the evils of the slave system that produced that sugar, but that's not the subject for the day.)
For this year's winter sunshine break, the Mayhem Consultant and I wanted to go somewhere easy: only one flight so we wouldn't experience the many colorful transportation problems that can happen. (Once we emerged from Tortola to find that our airline carrier had declared bankruptcy and stopped flying. Exciting times!)
On the advice of an excellent travel agent, we rather warily decided to try Jamaica. Warily because long ago we spent a week in Jamaica, and no sooner did we start our first beach walk when a local poled up his boat and offered us drugs. ("No, thank you," we said politely.)
The low point of that trip was when I took an over the counter drug for an upset stomach, and half an hour later passed out on the breakfast table. The MC thought I'd died and the restaurant owner thought I must have drunk way too much the night before.
Neither of these things were true. I discovered that the fifth listed ingredient was laudanum, which is how I learned I was hypersensitive to even the faintest trace of opium. So much for being a Regency lady quaffing bottles of laudanum!
But the Jamaica Inn looked gorgeous and the agent assured us that all her clients loved the place, so we decided to give it a try.
Indeed it was wonderful (that's our veranda on the left)--and very, very British. What better place for a Regency historical writer to relax? Because not only is Jamaica beautiful, warm, and sunny, but it's lavish with history.
Built in 1950 and presumably named after the Daphne DuMaurier novel, the Jamaica Inn quickly became an elite destination. As in, Arthur Miller brought Marilyn Monroe to the Jamiaca Inn for their honeymoon. (!!!)
Even more, it became a hangout for other distinguished Britons. Our room was right next to the White Suite, the best suite in the inn--and Winston Churchill had stayed there.
WINSTON CHURCHILL!!! I had some serious fangirl moments. It was easy to imagine him lounging on the veranda, smoking a cigar and drinking, though I'm having trouble imaging him in shorts and a polo shirt. And I'm pretty sure he didn't go for rum drinks with fruit on sticks. <G>
Churchill, Noel Coward, and Ian Fleming all drank at the bar there, quite possibly at the same time. Churchill, an accomplished artist, taught Coward how to paint.
On a visit to his pal Ian Fleming's estate Goldeneye (where Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel), Noel Coward fell in love with a ruined limestone building with a magnificent view. It had once belonged to Henry Morgan, the seventeenth century privateer, pirate, and later lieutenant-governor of Jamaica. He used the property as a lookout, and you can see why.
Morgan was to some extent the inspiration for Captain Blood, the Sabatini novel and movie that made Errol Flynn a star. Forbes magazine rated Morgan as the 9th richest of historical pirates. These days, a romanticized image of him is used to sell that fine Jamaican product, Captain Morgan Rum. As I said, history is everywhere!
Noel Coward bought his piece of paradise for £150 and built the Firefly Estate as his winter vacation home. It's a surprisingly simple hilltop house with amazing views. Despite the simplicity, he had A-list guests, from the Queen Mother to QEII herself and Sophia Loren. In fact, he died at Firefly and is buried on a hill looking over the bay. A wryly amused bronze statue of him sits on the lawn and contemplates the view he loved.
Luckily, it isn't necessary to be rich and famous to visit Jamaica, or the other islands of the Caribbean. But I must say that I like visiting a place that has some history. Do you enjoy that, too? What unexpected pieces of history have you found while traveling?
Mary Jo, showing the lovely towels swans the maids left on the railing of our veranda. Do you blame us for heading south? <G>
The Gretna Green marriage is something of a theme in historical romances. A couple from England, desperate to marry, perhaps under 21 years old and opposed by parents or guardians, make a dash for the border. The reason they needed to do this? Under the Marriage Act of 1753 (also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act), clandestine or common-law marriages in England were made illegal. All marriages were required to have an official ceremony performed by a Church of England priest, unless the couple was Jewish or Quaker. The Act also required parental consent for parties under 21 years old and enforced the publication of Banns. This Act also applied in Wales and Ireland. However, it did not apply to Scotland as Scotland was under its own legal system.
Years ago, I read an article about riverboat cruises in Europe, and the idea immediately appealed to me. As a friend says, rivers were the interstates of the past, and so much of European civilization developed along the waterways. How better to explore than in a boat holding maybe 150 friendly, intelligent passengers and serving lots of really good food?
Like a plot element, the idea of a riverboat cruise simmered in my lizard brain for years, and in 2006, I thought it was time to do a cruise in Southern France. Except that all the French cruises were booked for the time slot we had, and we ended up cruising the Douro River in Northern Portugal. It was great.
This year, I decided it was time to book that French cruise. Urp. Once again, Southern France along the Rhone was sold out. Which is how we ended up cruising the Danube. Again, it was great—the Mayhem Consultant and I are easily amused, and any interesting new place will be fun.
We started with a three day pre-cruise extension in Prague, which isn’t on the Danube, but really, how could we go to Eastern Europe and not see Prague? The city has been an intellectual and creative center for centuries, and under the blighting hand of five decades of Soviet rule, it was spared rapacious developers tearing down beautiful old buildings.
Prague lived up to its reputation, and the old city is truly spectacular, including the famous and incredibly complex astronomical clock, which dates to 1410 (!!!) and which performs its traffic stopping dance every hour on the hour.
A high point of Prague was our tour of the Lobkowicz Palace, part of the Prague castle complex on a hill overlooking the city. The Lobkowicz family had been Eastern European aristocrats for centuries, and they were collectors and patrons of the arts. Then the family was forced to flee twice—first when the Nazis came, then in 1948 when the Russians came.
And here the story becomes even more interesting. After the fall of Communism in 1989, former owners could go to the courts to reclaim the family properties, and that’s exactly what William Lobkowicz did. Born in Boston and educated at Harvard, he reclaimed the family estates and sold off several to raise the money to restore the others.
The Viking cruise line had a video about the palace tour, and I started salivating when they showed the family art treasures. Original Breughels and Canalettos. Hand written manuscripts by Beethoven, with his own scratch outs and annotations!
The tour included a lovely lunch in a gorgeous high ceilinged chamber, amazing views over the city, and a half hour chamber music concert featuring works by composers associated with Prague. People like Mozart and Beethoven and Dvorak.
That was the first of several concerts of classic music on our journey, and reflects how much music is a part of eastern European culture. Another concert was by the organ in cathedral of Passau, in Germany. It’s the largest cathedral organ in Europe with almost 18K pipes, and when it played the double bass notes, the reverberations were so powerful that I half expected the plaster cherubs to be shaken off the walls. <G> (Note: half an hour seems about right for a classical music concert for an audience of tourists.)
On a riverboat cruise, you tend to stop at a city a day and get guided walking tours of the old city in the morning, with free time or optional tours in the afternoon. So we got an overview of great cities of Eastern Europe. Regensburg in Bavaria has a stone bridge (called, logically enough,
the Stone Bridge, Steinerne Brücke) which was built in the 12th century and for centuries was the only really reliable crossing of the Danube for a very long stretch.
I loved medieval Passau, also in Bavaria, with its cathedral and twisting streets. The tour their illustrated something else about Eastern Europe: the presence of war. As the guide said matter of factly, there were no war industries in the city so the only thing the Allies bombed in WWII was the railroad station. Hence, the medieval city survived. (The other omnipresent topic in Bavaria was beer, which was referred to often and enthusiastically.)
I have to say I wasn’t too taken by Vienna, though that surely is because we were shown lots of oppressive imperial grandeur from the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nor was I very impressed by the famous Sacher tortes, though the tea room at the Sacher hotel was very lovely, and full of tourists like us who were there for the iconic experience. (And the chocolate. <G>)
I like Budapest a great deal more—it was attractive and idiosyncratic and invited further exploration. In the afternoon, we went to a horse show at the farm of the two Lazar brothers, who are world champion carriage drivers, and which underlined Hungary heritage of riding and horsemanship. (Some of the riding tricks, like this one, must be like what Regency spectators saw at Astley's Amphitheater back in the day.)
I’m a born tourist and could say lots more, but what struck me most about the trip was the different feel of the region from Western Europe, which I know a great deal better. Central Europe is sometimes called Mitteleuropa—Middle Europe, a term that is political and cultural as well as geographic.
The history felt very close as city guides described the Roman origins of their cities, the bombing damage of World War II, and empty Jewish quarters. Even more present was the history in the Czech Republic and Hungary, countries which were under Communist domination until 1989. Guides talked about how statues of Lenin and Stalin used to be in particular squares, how a particular square was popular for demonstrations "because there was more room for Russian tanks," and pointed out the stark, boxy Soviet buildings that were all about cheap practicality rather than aesthetics.
This part of the world has often been fought over—Hungary is largely a level plain, perfect for raiding horsemen or oncoming tanks. Maybe that accounts for the underlying fatalism of the culture: great music, world weary intellectuals, and brilliant scientists fleeing to the west. In the long history of the Central Europe, Communism was a blip that is already receding into the past.
Not that I should be drawing many conclusions based on a mere ten days in Mitteleuropa! But it’s a fascinating part of the world, and I’m glad we had a chance to see some of it.
Have you ever been to Central Europe? What did you think of it? And if you haven’t visited, would you like to? What dreams and fantasies come to mind when you think of the romantic Danube and Viennese coffee houses?
Mary Jo, adding a picture of a band of Prague musicians playing horns unlike any I've ever seen. But they sure were enjoying themselves!
Joanna here: This month Ask-A-Wench takes us to visit any time and place in all of history. A five-year visit. The question is, where would you go? And, more important, what would you pack?
Jo has a plan:
Oh, difficult! I don't think I want to go anywhere for 5 years, so I'm going to cheat and say 24 hours.
Because it irritates me that I keep finding new wrinkles on a Regency ball and so many other aspects of Regency life, I'd find the date of a top notch one and turn up in the early morning to observe. All the right clothing and accessories will be in my period appropriate trunk, though I'm sure there'll be problems of some sort.
I'll have correct period money in order to purchase what I need, tip servants etc, and a convincing letter of introduction from some relative far away, say Lancashire, introducing me to the hostess with an "as mentioned in my last letter." Hostess will assume some terrible mix up, I hope, and give me house room and entree to the ball. I will find a reason not to dance because that would really give the game away.
I'd take a smart phone, which I could keep tucked away, but use to sneak photographs and even type in little notes. And when I come back, no one will believe what it was really like at a Regency ball!
I would pack a large trunk (because, y’know, that’s how the beau monde roll—none of these gore-tex ballistic nylon roller bags. My lady’s maid would faint from embarrassment, and she might break the vinaigrette in her fall) and fill it with fancy ballgowns and fripperies because my destination would be the Congress of Vienna in the Fall of 1814.
Oh, I would love to be part of all the fancy balls and entertainments—the medieval Carrousel, the Peace Ball at Metternich’s country estate, Beethoven’s concerts . . . Dancing with reigning heads of Europe, including Tsar Alexander would be, um, an experience (I might have to resort to some unladylike defenses if he tried to pinch my derriere!) Like Jo, I would definitely sneak in a modern smart phone to surreptitiously photograph all the gilded splendor. A few videos of the quadrille and waltzes would be fun as well.
Also in my trunk would be a lovely inlaid box of watercolors, because after a stay in Vienna I would meander through the Alps and take a boat from Calais to London, where I would contrive to study painting with JMW Turner and Sir Thomas Lawrence. (And yes, I shall gladly guide you through my retrospective show at the Met this winter!)
Mary Jo would doubtless pack a fascinating suitcase, but she's living out of actual suitcases at the moment. She sends a wave and a message --
"Mary Jo has been touring Mitteleuropa in Real Time and has mostly been concerned with stuffing clothing back into suitcase since garments double in size after they've been worn."
Anne wants it all:
Anne here, absolutely dithering about where and when to go to. Like the others, I would take essential
supplies, which in my case would be plenty of money of the day, plus gold that could be easily traded if I ran out. I'd take lots of antibiotics and also things like aspirin — and I'd make sure my shots were all up to date. I can't imagine anything worse than being stuck in the 18th or 19th century and being ill and at the mercy of what passed for medicine in those days.
Regency England appeals, for research and for fun and for sheer curiosity -- London and Bath and several fabulous country house parties as well as balls.
But Paris at the turn of the 19th-20th century, the Belle Epoque, with the explosion of painting and the arts would be fabulous, too, even though my French is schoolgirl and rusty. Early - mid 19th Century Russia, specifically St Petersburg, would also appeal. Actually, I could combine several of these and have my very own Grand Tour, though travel in those days left a lot to be desired, and I would have to add flea powder and bed-bug repellant or whatever, not to mention some ant-nausea pills for all the bouncing in carriages and boats.
Of course, in all of these situations I would have to command the same kind of living conditions of the aristocratic class — I want comfort and freedom to do what I want. I have no interest in discovering what it's like to be a Regency-era scullery maid, or a milkmaid -- except by watching from a distance.
Susan's time and place (and bag):
I'd be off to Scotland in a flash, no question, ready to roam the heathery hills in kirtle and plaidie. But choosing the time period across the long span of Scottish history is almost as hard as choosing what to bring for an extended stay!
I'd like to jump around -- 11th century, 14th, 16th, 18th, 19th . . . but if I had to choose just one time to stay in for a while, I'd leap to the 14th century, just after Bannockburn, when there's peace and a positive spirit building.
I'd choose to be around Stirling and Edinburgh for a touch of the Highland atmosphere while still having access to all the, er, modern conveniences of a royal fortress. Good stone walls and fireplaces, latrines and pine torches, beeswax candles, fine fabrics, good harp music, manuscript libraries and such. I'd like to be part of the royal household so I could meet Robert Bruce (Wallace, alas, is long gone), and hang about the court -- then I'd head for the Highlands and find a little croft there and set up as a healer or an artist. Maybe I'd make some paints and try my hand at that.
What's in my leather satchel? (A suitcase would be so conspicuous here!) -- well, for starters, plenty of antibiotics and some other useful medicines. Chocolate for sure, lots of that, and good black and green teas. Cotton undies, for sure. I'm not a fan of wool . . . A few books: a copy of Culpeper's Illustrated Herbal (Culpeper dates later than this, but I want to know what those plants are!), a Gaelic dictionary, some of my forever keeper reads for the long winter nights (Mary Stewart travels and re-reads well), and a box of my favorite pens and plenty of notebooks and legal pads. Did I say dark chocolate? I might need a separate bag just to have enough!
Pat joins us with;
I’m going to reveal my American history roots and say I’d love to go back to the end of the American Revolutionary War. Can you imagine the joy of celebrating a new nation? And the terror of deciding how to create our own government? I’d love to learn the real history behind the history books. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/
This would be in 1787 and I’d choose Philadelphia. I’d love to meet Jefferson and Franklin. Their intelligence and common sense awe me. Unfortunately, as a female, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed inside the convention halls, but I bet I could hear an earful at the tavern!
I’d pack whatever gold pieces I could find, toilet paper, and leggings. Philadelphia is cold and those big gowns with no long johns wouldn’t be warm enough for me!
I do not know a heck of a lot about Augustan Rome. I am assuming it looked pretty much like that picture to the left, but I may be slightly mistaken and it looked more like the picure on the right.
Anyhow, they wore pretty and comfortable-looking clothing, which is a big plus for me.
What to bring? I got out my metaphorical suitcase and toyed with several clever ideas. I'd get me some solar panels and a recharging set up and bring my computer and kindle. That's the ticket. I'd have a whole library with me and my working tools. Everything I need to write.
But let's be realistic about this. I know how the world works. I'd arrive and everything would stop working. Give it a week.
I decided to go low-tech. I'd take ballpoint pens, because it would drive me mad to try to write with a quill pen. And notebooks. Lots of notebooks. I am as flexible as the next person, but I do not want to learn to write on papyrus.
So I packed up the suitcase with notebooks and threw in a box of pens (black, fine-line) and was ready to close the lid when I thought, "Shouldn't I bring some antibiotics in case I come down with, y'know, pneumonia?"
I threw in a couple few bottles of penicillin and started to close the lid, then suddenly thought -- "No tomatoes." Italy without pizza. This seemed just so wrong.
I tossed in some packets of tomato seed. I'd grow my own, next to the impluvium.
I was shuffling around notebooks to make room for seed packets when it suddenly struck me -- soap. No soap in ancient Rome. Could I learn to learn to make my own? Could I become an advocate of the olive oil rubdown and a good scrape? Did I want to go around smelling like a salad?
Not so much. I chucked some notebooks out in favor of two dozen bars of soap. No toothpaste. I'd chew mint or something.
But hey! That put me in mind of spices! Great Hera, I'd forgotten spices. Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, pepper.
More notebooks gone.
That was when it struck me. This was Europe in The Time Before Coffee.
What a ghastly prospect.
Notebooks definitely out. Coffee in. I'd keep five or six notebooks. I'd learn to do rough drafts on a slate and transfer only the final work to the notebooks. I could live with that.
I closed the lid on the suitcase.
And then I thought ...
If you could go on a historical vacation, where would you go and what's the one thing you would absolutely have to pack? Some lucky commenter will receive a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe, our Wench anthology.
As some of you know, I’ve been in the process of not one, but two life-changing events these past months. I’m not sure “husband retiring” rates as high as death or birth, but it has to be right up there with moving across the country. So please excuse my tardiness in posting. My calendar shows a big blank spot on today, and I didn’t even question it, that’s how brain dead I am.(a photo of our new backyard!)
I believe I’ve wondered before how our ancestors managed to pull up roots and move to villages where they knew no one, or crossed countries not even knowing where the next water might be found. With all our 21st century technology, moving is still a frustrating, terrifying, and stressful experience. We had two cars, cell phones, and walkie-talkies driving over two thousand miles, and I was a wreck at the end of four days. Four months of watching oxen kicking up dust on my covered wagon would have killed me. At least I had the sense to jettison most of our household goods before we left!
Nicola here. It’s no secret that amongst the Wenches and our readers there are a lot of fans of all things Scottish. It’s a beautiful country, one of the places in the world I could never tire of visiting and I have had some amazing experiences there, from climbing mountains to swimming in the lochs, from sailing amongst the Northern Isles to wandering the cobbled streets of Edinburgh. I’ve fallen over in Scottish bogs, been bitten by midges, danced at a ceilidh and been marooned in every sort of weather you might imagine, flood, fog and snow. It’s been brilliant.
In making my frequent trips to Scotland I’m hardly unique. Nor is heading to the Highlands a recent phenomenon. Scotland was a tourist destination as early as the 18th century and in the later years of that century and in the early 19th century its popularity exploded. “It has now become fashionable to make a tour into Scotland for some weeks or months,” The Weekly Magazine commented in 1772, whilst Eliza Diggle observed in 1788: “All the world is travelling to Scotland and Ireland.”
Here are a few of the snippets I've picked up about the history of tourism in Scotland when I was researching the background to The Lady and the Laird (with a few of my own photos for illustration!)
The earliest authors who wrote about Scotland, including Martin Martin in 1698 and Daniel Defoe in 1724, were intrepid individuals whose writings inspired other travellers to venture into those wild lands. In 1771 Thomas Pennant published his Tour In Scotland, which was a vast success. He had previously written a similar guide to Ireland, which he admitted was very incomplete “owing to the conviviality of the country.” Visitors to Scotland were attracted by Pennant’s descriptions of landscape and his account of folklore. His enthusiasm for picturesque views and for nature was keen. He did much to inspire Dr Samuel Johnson’s travels and despite disliking Pennant’s politics Johnson said of him: “He is the best traveller I ever read; he observes more things than anyone else does.”
Dr Johnson and James Boswell followed swiftly in Pennant’s footsteps, travelling mainly through the Western Isles. Here they found the Highlands in a state of change. The clan system had been dismantled, the wearing of tartan was prohibited and the land was being cleared. Johnson wondered if he had left it too late to witness the “old” way of life of the Highlands. He did note, however, that illegal whisky distilling was common and that there was a custom called the skalk, whereby a man took a glass of whisky as an aperitif before breakfast. (My husband turned a bit pale when he heard that. He likes a wee dram but not before breakfast. I remember visiting the Talisker Distillery last year and doing some whisky tasting at about 11 in the morning. The rest of the day is a bit hazy.)
The Guidebook - An Insipid Tour
By the turn of the 19th century guide books to Scotland abounded. The Quarterly Review of 1806 complained: “There is Johnson’s Philosophic Tour, Pennant’s Descriptive Tour, Gilpin’s Picturesque Tour, Stoddart’s Sketching Tour, Garnet’s Medical Tour, Mrs Murray’s Familiar Tour, Newte’s Nautical Tour, Mawman’s Bookselling Tour, Campbell’s Crazy Tour, Lithie’s Insipid Tour…All those Caledonian memorabilia that the more desperate visit in person.” I must admit I am a keen reader of guidebooks. The guide book to Edinburgh I used last year was particularly good on helping me put my itinerary together even if it wasn’t called “An Insipid Tour of Edinburgh.” (Here is a photo of me consulting it in the famous Greyfriars church yard.)
It’s difficult to know how many of the 18th and 19th century travel guides were bought by people who simply had an interest in reading more about Scotland and were not actually intending to leave the comfort of their armchair. The tour guides definitely played a part in encouraging a growing interest in the country, its landscape, the rugged scenery, the geology, the literature and the legends. Perhaps some of those people who read about the country still saw it as too wild and dangerous to visit but reading about it at home made it seem safer.
At the same time the refurbishment of inns and the development of hotels does suggest that people were travelling in increasing numbers. The Napoleonic Wars certainly benefited travel in Britain as much of the continent was closed to tourists; one newspaper commented: “Edinburgh is as much visited by every dashing citizen who pretends to fashion as Margate or Tonbridge.”
An Opportunity for Tour Guides
With tourism came a need for people to show the visitors around. Guides could make a good income from fees and tips and some supplemented their talks by selling handbooks and souvenirs. By the 1790s the more entrepreneurial were designing advertisements offering their services. Towns such as Perth and Sterling appointed town guides and abbeys offered guided tours, as did stately homes. In 1814 the Duke of Atholl’s factor devised a set of guidelines for the people who showed visitors around the gardens at Dunkeld. They had to wear a badge for identification and they had to ensure that all visitors signed in. The tourists were not permitted to walk round on their own because some of them would help themselves to “souvenirs” of plant cuttings or carve their initials on the trees! The Head Gardener himself would show the more important guests around although on one occasion he made a mistake when two rich American visitors came posing as sailors. He took one look at their shabby attire and consigned them to an underling, thus missing out on a substantial tip.
The Visitor’s Book
In Scotland the visitor’s book started its life in the 18th century as “the album given to strangers.” Most people simply signed their names but a few made comments about the place and whether or not they had enjoyed their visit. From this developed the idea of feedback on the attractions which today manifests itself in Trip Advisor! I haven't found any rude comments in Scottish visitors' books but I was intrigued to read that the gardens at Nuneham Courtenay in England had a problem with people writing uncomplimentary comments in the visitors book in 1815. One visitor wrote: “Well does the dinner and the day agree; the food is cold and so are we.”
By Land and Sea
As tourism started to take off it gave a boost to Scottish hotels and inns. This was much to the relief of the nobility and gentry who had previously offered friends and acquaintances accommodation in their own houses. In 1773 Lord Breadalbane commented that: “We have had a good deal of company here this summer… Many of them from England, some of whom I knew before, others recommended to me. Sometimes it is a little troublesome…” Guest had to be fed and entertained, which could be expensive, and they all wanted to participate in some Scottish country dancing. Poor Lord Breadalbane found that he had barely a moment to himself before the next carriage load of visitors rolled up to the door!
Of the inns, the best were excellent but the worst had a name for being appalling. The Inchture Inn between Perth and Dundee was noted for serving a very poor breakfast of stale eggs, rancid butter and inedible bread. The well-organised tourist sent ahead to organise rooms, request fresh bedding and make sure there would be good food. The roads were equally mixed, some in excellent condition, others very poor. Whilst highway robbery was almost unknown by this period, other mishaps were all too frequent. Tourists frequently got lost because there were no road signs. Even Queen Victoria got lost in the hills above Dunkeld, and carriages could easily overturn and horses go lame. North of Perth the inns did not always provide horses for hire which meant that travellers had to rest their own teams until they were able to continue.
Travel on the water was even more perilous. The journey to see the famous Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa was considered extremely dangerous (and I have to admit that it was pretty rough the day we visited and our dog didn’t much appreciate being lifted in and out of the boat by two hefty sailors!) This is one of our photos showing the sea breaking over the entrance to Fingal's Cave.
The Medicinal Visit
The therapeutic value of sea bathing was not as quickly recognised in Scotland as it was in England, perhaps because it’s cold getting in the water in Scotland whatever the season. (There is a photo of me swimming in Scotland but it's censored because of my horrified expression when the cold water hits!) A saltwater bath was built at Peterhead in 1762 to augment the existing mineral spring treatments and in 1788 there were bathing machines for hire at Tynemouth and other resorts. By the turn of the 19th century there were a number of seaside towns near Edinburgh that offered sea bathing and this was generally recognised as being good for the health. Dr William Buchan recommended seawater as a cure for skin complaints and a preservative of general health. These towns also developed coffee rooms, circulating libraries and music chambers for those occasions on which the weather turned wet.
Scotland also offered other opportunities for a healthy holiday. Equestrian trips, pedestrian tours and mountain ascents were all on offer by the end of the 18th century. As the 19th century progressed the idea of a picturesque tour of Scotland to admire the scenery or a medicinal visit for exercise and sea bathing was joined by the sporting visit so beloved of Victorian and Edwardian aristocrats. Scotland’s popularity as a tourist destination hasn’t waned since.
Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to taking a trip? Do you like to read the guidebooks beforehand or simply turn up and decide what to do when you arrive? And have you ever visited somewhere that was completely different from how you expected it to be? (For me it was Stonehenge - I expected it to be bigger!)
Nicola here, back from a holiday sailing on the Norfolk Broads. The Broads is a vast area of connected rivers and lakes in the East of England and it has been a tourist destination since the 19th century. I’ve wanted to go sailing on the Broads since I read a book by Kathleen Fidler called “The Brydons on the Broads” when I was about 12 years old. The Brydons were a family who had lots of adventures but I remembered the story set on the Norfolk Broads in particular because it involved the children seeing a ghost ship and finding a secret Broad. Exciting! One of the special things about the Norfolk Broads is that when you are there, the atmosphere is so strong you can really imagine this happening. There are all sorts of secret little waterways with sailing boats slipping silently by. A kingfisher will flash past flying along the river and disused windmills stand sentinel over the reed beds. It’s a magical landscape.
A Brief History
The Norfolk Broads look like a natural phenomenon but they are manmade. From the 9th century people cut the peat in the area to use as fuel for heating and cooking. This was a major industry until the 14th century but when sea levels began to rise the water filled the holes created by the peat cutting and formed a series of lakes, the Broads. In the 16th Century, Norwich was England’s second largest city after London and it was very convenient to have a network of waterways to transport wool and agricultural produce for export. For several hundred years Norfolk wherry ships were an iconic sight on the Broads. We saw several restored wherries that are still sailing today, including the one in the photo.
By the 18th century work was underway to drain the marshland of the Broads because it was becoming too flooded. It is from this time that we have the other iconic Broads image – the beautiful windmills that were used as drainage pumps. Some of these have been turned into houses. Others have fallen into ruin. Most are extremely photogenic!
By the 19th century the Broads was starting to be used for pleasure. Fishing was very popular as were the sailing “frolics,” the forerunners of regattas. During the Victorian and Edwardian era the Broads became a holiday destination for rich families seeking an “adventure” holiday! These days anyone can visit the Broads for an adventurous holiday afloat!
The Broads also have a connection to Horatio Nelson; his sister lived at Barton House in the village of Barton Turf. It felt pretty cool to be sailing on Barton Broad and thinking that Nelson had probably done the same thing!
St Benet’s Abbey
One of the places I was keen to visit was St Benet’s Abbey, a monastery founded before the Norman Conquest of 1066 and the only abbey in England that was not closed as part of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the monasteries. There is a major archaeological project taking place to excavate St Benet’s. You can read about it here. In the 18th century a windmill was built into the ruins of St Benet’s gatehouse, which gives it the rather extraordinary appearance that it has today.
St Benet’s is a very atmospheric place so it is fitting that there are lots of ghost stories associated with the ruins. One refers to a monk called Brother Pacificus who can be seen rowing across the river in a small boat, accompanied by his dog. It is said that the wherrymen would refuse to moor overnight near the ruins of St Benet’s because they were afraid of the ghosts.
St Benet’s was also a very special place for us for finding a rare butterfly – not the very beautiful swallowtail, which we also saw, but a Wall Brown. This was first named in 1699 and referred to as “The golden marbled butterfly with black eyes.”
There is a rather nice UK/USA connection at South Walsham, where we visited the Fairhaven Water Gardens. When we went there we discovered that Lord Fairhaven, who created the gardens, took his title from Fairhaven, Massachsetts, which was the place where the first Lord Fairhaven was born. The water gardens are stunning. They formed part of the South Walsham estate that Lord Fairhaven bought after the 2nd World War. The house and formal gardens had been used as a convalescent home and the woodland and water garden as a training ground for the home guard. Pleasure boats were sunk in the inner broad, which was also covered with barbed wire, to prevent German flying boat from landing. Tanks were hidden in the garden; some of the tank bays can be seen in the garden today. The house had fallen into disrepair and the garden had become a jungle. From this, Lord Fairhaven created the gorgeous woodland and water gardens that are there today.
We also visited the thatched Edwardian mansion of How Hill, built initially as a holiday home for the Boardman family and another place with a gorgeous garden. How Hill looks the epitome of Edwardian luxury but in the grounds is a very different sort of building, a cottage of the type that a marshman and his family might live in. The cottage was built in about 1780 and was tiny. There was one main living room downstairs, a scullery, a larder and tool room. Upstairs were two bedrooms, one for the adults who shared it with the baby, and a room next door for the children (sometimes as many as seven in one tiny room). The cottage was thatched in sedge and reed, harvested on the Broads. Marshmen did all sorts of work, from operating and maintaining the drainage mills to cutting the hay, which was sent to London to feed the hackney carriage horses. They were also fishermen and they caught eels and shot duck and pheasant. It was a way of life lived mainly afloat. Transport was more likely to be by boat than on the roads or tracks and it struck me that this was completely different from the way that most people would have lived on the land in the Georgian/Regency period.
All this was a far cry from our boat, which was comfortable if not luxurious with a hot shower and four poster bed! But what was the same was that you get a very different perspective when travelling by water than you do on land. Roads disappear, as does any sense of distance and direction (at least it did for me!) Time seems to slow down (although maybe that is just the effect of being on holiday!)
At the wonderful Museum of the Broads I read up a lot more about the history of the Norfolk Broads.One of the boatmen we met commented that there wasn't much historical fiction that features the Norfolk Broads. This is surprising since it's such an evocative landscape and there is so much history to write about! I can feel a series coming on…
All this from a book that inspired me when I read it as a child! And knowing what voracious and wide-ranging readers we all are I wondered if there was a book you had read as a child - or as an adult - that inspired you to visit a particular place, and whether it lived up to the expectation when you went there?
Nicola here, fresh back from a trip to North Devon and the National Carriage Museum at Arlington Court. I’ve always wanted to visit the carriage museum because although I have read a lot about 18th and 19th century carriages, and seen lots of pictures, nothing compares with the experience of seeing a carriage or riding in one. The other reason I wanted to go to Arlington is because of the connection to Ashdown House, as the Craven State Chariot is one of the stars of their collection. So here, for those of you who also have a love of elegant carriages (and fast cars!) is a quick run down of the main types of early to mid 19th century carriage in the collection and how they compare to today’s vehicles, with thanks to the National Trust at Arlington for providing me with extra information and photos. If you want to see larger versions of the pictures you can click on them for a bigger image.
The state coach or state chariot
At the top of the pile as far as carriages were concerned was the state coach or state chariot. This was used only by the nobility. Frank Huggett in Carriages at Eight comments that in the 19th century, wealthy aristocrats needed seven or eight carriages to preserve their distinction from the rising middle class and provide a suitable carriage for every aspect of their social life. The state coach was used for important occasions such as the state opening of parliament or society weddings and grand occasions. This is the equivalent of the Rolls Royce with chauffeur.
The state coach could carry four passengers in the body, the chariot two. These coaches would be pulled by a pair of horses and driven by a coachman. Two footmen would stand on the footman’s
cushion, the padded platform behind the body of the coach. A state coach or chariot would have exceptionally fine decoration. The Craven chariot (pictured), for example, has silver-plated axle caps, a
silver plated family crest and other carriage “furniture.” It also has a sumptuous blue damask interior. For formal occasions the coachman wore full livery with powdered wig, tricorn hat, braided livery coat, white plush breeches, white silk stockings and silver-buckled shoes. The footmen wore similar livery except that they wore bicorn or cocked hats. The Cravens also had the ultimate carriage decoration of “matching footmen,” identical twins who rode on the back. The footmen carried silver topped staves known as wands, which were used to keep the crowds at bay. They were expected to keep completely motionless except when needed for crowd control! The Craven state chariot was absolutely gorgeous inside, the last word in elegance and comfort. That said it was also very cosy. I had imagined that there would be more space. However if one wanted an intimate chat on the way to the state opening of parliament then it would be just the thing!
The barouche was the equivalent of the family car, albeit a very plush family car. The barouche could hold four passengers and it is mentioned a number of times in the writing of Jane Austen as the type of vehicle owned by a rich family – the Bertrams of Mansfield Park, for example. It was something to aspire to. Mrs John Dashwood hankered after one in Sense and Sensibility. Originally known as German Wagons because they were first made in Germany, the early barouches were heavy vehicles. They were also the ultimate in elegance and the chosen vehicle in which to show off in the park.
On a more practical note, though, a travelling barouche was very comfortable for those long journeys between your country estates or even abroad. The travelling barouches needed to be sturdier than the town ones. It could be coachman or postillion-driven and required four horses, with the horses and postillions hired at the inns en route. The team would be changed every ten to twelve miles. If you used postillions they would ride the two nearside horses and a footman rode on the hind boot – the rumble seat – and it was his responsibility to apply the brake when travelling down hill. It was in a travelling barouche or travelling chariot that the young sprigs of nobility made the Grand Tour of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
This particular travelling chariot (above) belonged to Gibbs Crawford Antrobus who used it in his career as a diplomat. He was a junior secretary under Lord Castelreagh at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 and subsequently Envoy Extraordinary and State Plenipotentiary for George IV to the kingdom of the two Sicilies. Isn't it gorgeously plush inside!
Many travelling barouches contained a “dormeuse boot” (which my auto correct changed to dormouse boot) with panels inside the coach that would fold down to allow the passengers to stretch their legs at full length in order to sleep (see picture on the right). Even so it looked pretty cramped and I wouldn’t have fancied trying to sleep in it.
One of the details that I loved in the travelling chariot was the sword case that was built into the back of the coach and accessible only from inside, a necessary precaution when one was travelling through uncharted or bandit ridden countryside!(pictured).
The phaeton was a four-wheeled carriage driven by the owner and never by their
professional coachman. It could be drawn by two or four horses and given its relatively small size I imagine it would be pretty fast with four. The high perch phaeton was very popular at the end of the 18th century and is mentioned a lot in the books of Georgette Heyer, for example, as a fast and fashionable carriage for young men to drive and show off in. However as you get into the 19th century the phaeton became lower, safer and more practical. Lady Catherine De Bourgh drove her own phaeton in Pride and Prejudice. There were bigger, tougher versions of the phaeton that were for the country sportsman rather than for town driving. The Mail Phaeton (so called because it used the same springs that a mail coach did) was built for country driving and was the vehicle of choice of the sporting gentleman – a Land Rover equivalent or SUV.
The name phaeton, is of course derived from Greek mythology, named for Phaeton the son of Helios, the Sun God, who drove his father’s chariot. The horses bolted and almost set fire to the earth before they were stopped, a rather neat metaphor for some of the driving we would surely have seen on the Regency streets had we been there!
Ah, the curricle! The racing car equivalent of the Regency period! There are no curricles in the collection at Arlington, perhaps because they were so light, fast and fashionable that they did not survive. Elegant and with a skeletal structure, curricles were drawn by a pair of horses, the aim being to show off your driving skills and your perfectly matched horses.
One thing I especially loved about Arlington was that it is still a working stables. You can go into the tack room and smell the leather of the harness and watch the carriage horses at work, or take a drive around the estate. You can even take carriage-driving lessons if you really want to get hands on experience.
I hope you have enjoyed this canter through the Arlington carriage collection. For more details on carriage interiors and decoration, check out the excellent blog post by Lesley-Anne McLeod here and to see the Arlington collection click here.
Do you fancy driving your own Regency phaeton or curricle, or would you prefer to travel in a coachman-driven carriage? What about travelling long distances with a dormeuse boot to sleep in? And have you enjoyed any historical romances that feature road trips or fast carriages?
Today’s blog is another in my occasional series of showing how stories come together. This time I’m dissecting the second in my contemporary romance series: the book what was once called The Spiral Path and I recently renamed Phoenix Falling in the relaunched Starting Over Series.
Setting the Scene:
My historical series are all built around men who became friends as schoolboys, so I decided to build my contemporary series around a group of female friends. They met as girls at a real school, Baltimore’s Friends School, which is a Quaker institution, though students come from all backgrounds.
Why Baltimore? Because writing contemporary would represent so many challenges in other areas that I thought it would be nice not to spend much time researching the setting. Hence, using my home town, Baltimore, which has texture and character and might seem exotic to people who've never been here. <G>
One inspiration for the story was reading in the Baltimore Sun about Cass Elliot (real name: Ellen Naomi Cohen), one of the singers in the famous 60’s rock group, the Mamas and the Papas.
Cass died at age 32, leaving a daughter by an unknown father. The girl was sent back East to be raised by Cass’s family. That gave me the idea for a heroine whose mother was a famous rock singer who died too young, leaving a child who was sent to Baltimore to live with her cold, disapproving grandparents.
Hence, Raine Marlowe, real name Rainbow. Rainey survived emotionally because of the friendships she formed at school and she stays in touch with Kate and Val and the others. But she has talent and desire, so off she goes to Hollywood to become an actress.
I'm not sure why I decided on a Hollywood/movie making set-up, but I liked the idea of writing about creative process, and what kind of people do the hard work of creating the magic. The book begins with Rainey approaching her estranged husband, Kenzie Scott, to ask if he’ll star in the movie she wants to make from a Victorian novel that she loves. The Centurion is about an officer in one of Queen Victoria’s “little wars,” and the terrible price that is paid for empire. Though I invented the novel, the little wars were real enough, and so is the cost of empire.
After separating from Kenzie, Rainey had thrown herself into writing a script and putting together a budget as a distraction from her pain. But in order to get the financing, she needs a “bankable” star—and Kenzie is a superstar, as well as a contender for my most tortured hero ever. Think Pierce Brosnan in his 30s—gorgeous, enigmatic, and very British.
The story is about a lot of things, and one of the central questions is how can two people build a lasting relationship in the middle of the craziness of celebrity. Rainey is a successful Oscar nominated actress, while Kenzie is a tabloid darling whose every date becomes fodder for speculation.
Rainey and Kenzie fall in love and impulsively marry after they finish making a new version of The Scarlet Pimpernel together. The love and caring are real, but the pressures and separations crack their marriage.
But because Rainey needs Kenzie and he can't say no to her, he agrees to do the movie without even reading the script. Which turns out to be a terrible mistake, since the central conflict of The Centurion cuts dangerously close to the horrors of his childhood. Playing John Randall, the brave, tormented British officer, brings Kenzie closer and closer to the breaking point.
The situation is worsened when the actress cast as the love interest quits before shooting begins, and Rainey must take on the role herself. It turns out that the heroine, Sarah Masterson, has a loving loyalty which freaks Rainey out because of her personal commitment issues.
If that isn't bad enough, just as shooting wraps up, a British paparazzo with an apparent grudge against Kenzie explodes a scandalous accusation that pushes Kenzie over the edge.
Rainey moves in to protect her husband, not knowing if the story is true or not, and not really caring. She’s never stopped loving Kenzie, and she’ll do anything to save his sanity. They retreat to the remote New Mexican ranch that he’d bought on impulse. There the layers of pain and secrets are revealed, and the healing begins.
I love this story, and the research was immense. I read all kinds of memoirs like screenwriter William Goldman’s witty, informative Adventures in the Screen Trade and Emma Thompson’s The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Diaries, in which she recounts all the work that went into her Oscar winning screenplay for Jane Austen’s famous novel, and what it was like to play the lead in the movie after she’d written the script.
Also, a friend of mine is the sister-in-law of a director who was shooting a movie in Baltimore, and she was able to get me onto the set for a day. (Shooting a movie is a really, really boring process, I learned. <G>)
I talked to a young woman who had been a Hollywood personal assistant, a class of people who are like magical elves, doing anything and everything necessary to make a star’s life run smoothly.
I had once read about a B&B carved into a cliff in New Mexico, and thought, “Wouldn’t that be a great place for Rainey and Kenzie to go for a few hours of peace and quiet!”
I'd also read about a monastery far off the beaten path in northern New Mexico. The Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert was literally the very first site I visited back in the ‘90s when I got an internet capable computer. I used the monastery for Tom Corsi, a secondary character in Stirring the Embers. He's living in the monastery as a novice and trying to decide whether or not to take final vows. A warm and tolerant man, he’s there when Rainey needs to talk.
One of the most important elements was the labyrinth, which became the central metaphor for the book, and which provided the original title for the book, The Spiral Path. I’ve blogged about labyrinths in the past, and the symbolism is perfect for the complicated relationship between Rainey and Kenzie. Plus, there is a real labyrinth that Kenzie makes as he comes to terms with his painful past.
The research was fascinating, but the heart of the story is two complicated people trying to rebuild the loving marriage that they both desperately need. Is there a happy ending? Of course! My stories are always about healing and reconciliation, and never more than in Phoenix Falling.
What’s behind the new title? I think of Kenzie as like a phoenix who'd built a soaring and successful life from the ashes of a catastrophic childhood. When his life is shattered again, will he have the strength to rebuild?
With Rainey’s love and understanding, yes. Here’s an excerpt of Rainey’s first meeting with Kenzie.
I’ll be giving a copy of the original print edition of The Spiral Path to one person who leaves a comment between now and midnight Tuesday. Or if you’re impatient, you can download the e-book of Phoenix Falling from any of the major online bookstores. If you do read the story, I hope you love Kenzie and Rainey as much as I do.
by Mary Jo
Often our monthly Ask A Wench post is a reader question that all the Wenches answer in our different ways. But today’s compilation is rooted in Christmas pictures. Anne sent us a photo of some of her holiday decorations, another wench noticed the beautiful gemstone bonsai tree and other polished stones—and we were off the races! Or perhaps the quarries. <G>
It turns out that all of the Wenches love stones and minerals, and we love taking about them. We could have easily generated a multi-part series on Stones We Love, but I restrained myself. We'll start our rock stories with Anne and her bonsai tree:
I love stones, too, and compulsively bring them home from my travels because they're pretty or I like their shape or they evoke a place I loved in my memory. I have round white stones from a beach in Brittany, rugged mountain-shaped rocks from Montana, smooth wave-washed pieces of colored tiles from the south of France, shards of slate from a sliding mountain of slate in North Wales — and much more.
I've had Aussie customs officers heave up my backpack to check it and say, "Gawd, this is heavy. You got rocks in here or something?"
And I say, "Yes, and books."
I also have a couple of friends who are fossickers —— they dig for gold and gemstones as a hobby, albeit a fairly serious one. They go bush (to remote locations) several times a year and camp and fossick and dig. They also dig for opals and I've bought a few beautiful stones from them. I also have these stones (in the picture) that they were going to toss into the garden. They're not valuable, but they're beautiful stones with tiny gleams and glitters of blue, aqua and red opal in them (more visible in the sun than in this photo) and I love them, not just because they're beautiful, but because my friends found them and polished them and gave them to me.
Stones, gemstones and rocks can bring very good energy -- light and color and beauty -- to the home and for writers. I've collected some lovely rocks and stones over the years that I've stashed around the house and in my office, where they catch the light and help to inspire (and distract!) me while I'm working. I find them very soothing and fascinating.
And because most of them were gifts from friends, they have additional meaning and personal connections. My son's girlfriend is an amateur gemologist and rock collector, and I've learned a lot from watching her identify, categorize and rank the stones she collects; she also displays them at gem shows. Several of her discoveries in the wilds of Virginia and Maryland have found their way onto our bookshelves and into our garden, and into my office, where I like to think they're happy clustered on windowsills or on the desk.
Among the stones in my office are several amethyst geodes of various sizes, including one that's a gorgeous purple cavern big enough for a fairy or a dragon figure (and they've been in there, believe me!); a beautiful polished phantom crystal with curls and whorls and tiny scenarios within the stone; and a big fist-sized chunk of raw lapis lazuli that a friend brought from Brazil. Lapis has very good energy for writers, so I keep it near my computer. That saturated blue is chalky in its raw form, veined with other stone material, and just gorgeous. Medieval artists coveted lapis lazuli, and carefully chipped and ground the stones into a powder to mix with egg (and later oil) to create the heavenly blue that was considered rare and costly in the medieval era.
I also have a crystal point a friend brought from Madagascar -- a split terminus quartz crystal about ten inches long, heavy, full of depth and beautiful cloud like veining. You can just feel the powerful energy in it. I clear my crystals now and then with running water and sunlight, as crystals can pick up dust and get a bit dull -- and they can absorb energies around them just like little radio transmitters; it's good to keep those energies clear so the stones won't refract the stale energies right back at ya. So they say!
I've travelled around a good bit, so the rocks I keep are small rocks. Me, being practical, you know.
Every one of my rocks has a story. Some are presents -- that carved bird perched on top of the pile so protectively is a present from a friend who carves rock. Some of my rocks I've found. The jasper -- that's the irregular big brown-red chunk on the right -- is from the Southwest of the United States. The carnelian, a bit above it, is the same color, but translucent. That's from Iran. It rated a special professional polishing.
To the right, the dirty-looking, complicated quartz crystal is what they call a 'desert diamond'. You find those out in the middle of the sands. This one is from the Nejd in Saudi Arabia. You'll be all shook up from driving in the dark, off-road. There's, oh, just desolation all around and some scrub brush and big stone cliffs a mile or two off, still black. It's dawn behind you because you're looking west. The sun comes up. You see a glint way off. That's your crystal. You go racing off to get there before it's lost again.
And there's that egg-shaped sort of pink rock in the center. That's from the north part of the coast of Maine, from the beach. There's a layer of granite that underlies the coast that's about pure pink. They made buildings of this 'Red Beach granite' or 'Pembroke granite' up and down the Northeast a hundred years ago.
The egg shaping comes from the washing of the sea. I picked it up when I was twelve or so and thought of the years it took and the accidents of time that made a neat hen's egg out of some boulder. So cool, thought I. And I still do.
I keep my rocks in a basket where the first sunlight hits them.
They just light up.
We collect stones on our Scottish holidays, usually round ones that have been washed down by the burn that runs past our holiday cottage. They sit in our garden at home so that we have a ittle bit of Scotland with us all the time. They make great paperweights if we actually get the chance to sit reading in the garden!
My most prized poseession, though, is a piece of chalk that was cut to restore Ashdown House. They opened up the original 17th century quarry to do this and my husband begged a piece from the restoration guys and had it engraved for me. Most people don't get it and wonder why I have a chunk of rock on my desk!
I also have some sarsen stones (mine are a bit smaller than the ones in the photo!) which are the local sandstone rocks washed into extraordinary shapes during the Ice Age. There are may legends around them. They are the stones that made Stonehenge and Avebury stone circle. The holes in them were made by the roots of palm trees
ROCKS!!! I love rocks! My friends give me such a bad time about my passion for rocks. I'm always finding pretty rocks in my driveway gravel, in the pasture, on day trips to various places like Mount St. Helen's (I have a lava rock from there), and many other rocks, geodes, ammonites, agates, crystals and petrified wood collected over the years. Below are some of my water washed stones from Prince Edward Island.
Our webmistress Sherrie Holmes has some amazing stones, too.
A former co-worker's mother was an artist who hiked the rugged Hell's Canyon trails along the Snake River that borders Oregon and Idaho. When she found out that the Hell's Canyon dam would flood a section of the canyon rich in historic pictographs, she made it her mission to preserve as many of them as she could for posterity. She did it in a unique way: first photographing them, then painting their exact replicas on rocks from the area. She donated her painted rocks to a local museum, which sold them to tourists. Her generosity helped keep that small museum afloat.
When my co-worker showed me samples of her mother's rocks, I begged her to sell them to me. Despite the fact the museum was the only outlet for those rocks, her mother made an exception and allowed me to buy several pieces, after which she turned the money over to the museum.
This one us irregularly shaped, and each of the four sides has a different pictograph from Hell's Canyon.
Mary Jo again: I have my share of amethyst geodes and pale blue fluorites and pretty pebbles and minerals (of which I don't always remember the names!) The only one I'll show here is actually a piece made by my sister, Estill Putney, who is a professional stone carver. It was created as a memorial for the Virginia Tech shooting, which took place in her home town. The orange flower is made from a rare shade of natural alabaster. The carving presides over my dining room.
Mary Jo, adding more of Anne's opal boulders
Happy New Year! Oops, it's been a new year a day or so, but I've just returned home, so it's all new to me. Travel time doesn't count, right? We had a lovely time in historic New Orleans, once again making me regret that American historical romance isn't a major genre anymore. (See my backlist ebook Moonlight and Memories for my first attempt at catching some New Orleans flavor.) I've been enjoying steeping myself in the music and the culture and the history. And amusing ourselves with typical New Orleans humor. Looks like Santa is either very tired or now homeless!
How many of you got Mischief and Mistletoe for Christmas? Have you read it yet?
Nicola here. Last year I was fortunate enough to spend a holiday in the Scottish Borders. It's a stunningly beautiful part of the UK with dramatic scenery and a tumultuous history. I remember thinking that you could not get a better setting for a historical series packed full of passion and adventure. Then I heard about Blythe Gifford's new trilogy, set in the Borders during the Tudor era and I could not wait to get her to visit the Wenches and tell us all about it!
Now it's over to Blythe:
First, thanks for having me back. Many books by the Word Wenches sit on my keeper shelf, and it’s always an honor to share your corner of cyberspace.
The occasion is the launch of my new trilogy in the US and the UK. RETURN OF THE BORDER WARRIOR, a November release from Harlequin Historical, is the first of three about the Brunson Clan, a family of Reivers on the Scottish Borders during the early Tudor era.
Stubborn and strong, the Brunsons are the most feared family on the turbulent Scottish Borders: The family that will kneel to no one!
In Historical Romanceland, where I live and work, Scottish Highlanders get all the glory, but I find the Borders much more interesting. Whether there was a formal war or an uneasy peace, the Borders were, in effect, a war zone for 300 years.
Constant war, along with a bleak, hilly terrain ill-suited to settled agriculture, and inheritance laws that split land into smaller and smaller parcels all combined to make it difficult to keep body and soul together. To survive, the Reivers, a term applicable to both English and Scottish families, “made a living” by stealing from one another, or, alternately, by collecting “blackmail” from those who could pay to be left alone.
Loyal to family above king, these folks had feuds that rivaled the famous Hatfields and McCoys They were beyond the law of either government, and usually even beyond the reach of the special Border Laws that were developed in a joint Anglo-Scots effort to bring order from the chaos.
The term “Borders,” refers to an area encompassing both sides of the formal demarcation line. It operated in many ways like a third country with its own governmental districts, called Marches. Wardens, think of them as sheriffs or governors, were appointed for each March and the wardens of the Western Scottish March and the Western English March, for example, were supposed to work together to keep the peace and punish those who broke it. Their success was marginal at best.
This was, in part,
because the inhabitants, north and south of the demarcation line, had more in
common with each other than with the rest of their respective countrymen. They were just as likely to make war on an enemy family on their own side of the border and to ally with one on the opposite side. Borderers were fierce fighters, but they fought on their own terms and there was many a story of cross-border families calling their own truce in the middle of the kings’ battles. In a desperate effort to try to “keep the players straight,” the Border Laws prohibited marriage across country lines.
It worked about as well as you might expect.
All this offered story possibilities that were irresistible. So I hope my new trilogy, will introduce readers to a setting that has it all: strong men, bold women, and a code of honor and loyalty unmatched in the realm.
The first book is the story of John, the youngest son, who returns home after years of serving as a “big brother” to the young Scottish king. John is a man with something to prove, both to himself and to his family. As the only blue-eyed Brunson, he’s always felt as if he didn’t belong. Now, he no longer wants to. As soon as he enforces the king’s command for peace, he plans to return to his life at court and leave the valley of his birth for the last time.
But first, he must persuade Cate Gilnock to release his family from their promise to avenge her father’s death. Cate is a woman fierce as a warrior, but behind her eyes John senses vulnerability and secrets she refuses to share. Bit by bit, he falls in love with her, and with each step, he is drawn back into the life he thought he had left behind forever. Because of Cate, he discovers he is more like the rest of his family than he thought until, finally, he must decide: Is he truly a Brunson? Or is he the King’s man after all?
CAPTIVE OF THE BORDER LORD, January 2013, will tell the story of John’s sister, Bessie Brunson and finally, Black Rob Brunson, oldest son and leader of the family, meets his match in TAKEN BY THE BORDER REBEL, March 2013.
Photo credits. Cover used with permission. Author photo by Jennifer Girard.
Okay, no one actually asked us why we live where we do, but a discussion was triggered by Joanna Bourne’s recent move into an aerie in the Blue Ridge mountains. It was such a fun discussion that we thought we’d share it with you.
I'm very lucky. I don't have to dream about where I want to live. I can have it. For me, this means high up in the mountains, in the deep woods.
I lived for many years in big cities. Those were good times in a lot of ways. City life is exciting and rich and varied. But I never got used to the car exhaust and the dirt -- the paper litter -- and worse -- underfoot. I get pummeled by the noise. I'm offended by the endless yammering of advertising. There are just too many people.
I'm escaping all that. I'm not Thoreau with his "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." I'm not so philosophical. I just plan to enjoy the place.
My little house up here is surrounded by silent air and rocks and the green things making a hard living from rock. There's nothing meretricious. Nothing false or mean. You can put out your hand and under it is meadowsweet, clover, pussytoes, moss and the grey slate that's rested there a million years. There is no square foot I walk on that isn't subtle and true to its nature. Nothing has been reduced to the horrible simplicity man imposes on his surroundings.
This is all just achingly beautiful.
I lived in a small town for the first few years of my life, moved on to cities for the next twenty years and then retreated to country villages when the city bustle became too much. Now that I am getting older I am planning the move back to a small country town, so I am going full circle. Our current cottage is in a hamlet of 25 houses. It's designated a hamlet not a village because there no shop, pub or public transport. It's a drive of about 8 miles to the nearest town. We've been cut off by snow in winter before now and also by floods.
I enjoy the community feel here, I find the beautiful countryside inspiring but it can also be an isolated place for someone who works alone. I'd prefer to be closer to shops, restaurants and cultural activities. I do like people around me, but on my own terms. Where would I live if I could? I'd divide my time between a house by the sea and Mompesson House in Salisbury, the perfect sized Queen Anne town house with the amenities of the city but tucked away quietly in the historic cathedral close. The only problem is that I doubt the National Trust would be prepared to give it up to me!
I grew up shifting house (and school and sometimes country) every couple of years because of my dad's job, so I was keen to settle when I grew up.
I live in Melbourne, which is ranked as one of the world's most livable cities. It's the second largest city in Australia (4.1 million) and was founded in 1835. It boomed after the 1850's gold rushes and was for a short time in the 1880's, one of the world's biggest and wealthiest cities. That Victorian-era wealth is still visible in the many public buildings and terrace houses in the inner city.
My house isn't far from the city centre but it's in a quiet area, close to parks and a creek and nature trail, where I used to walk my dog every night. This is a painting of the Merri creek at dusk — my local creek— done in 1885 by Tom Roberts. There are more trees now, and just over the horizon there are houses and flats. But it's still lovely.
I can walk to shops and cafes, it's a quick trip by public transport into the city and there are wonderful restaurants in all directions — Melbourne is a "foodie" city. I'm close to the university, and the museum and have four public libraries at my disposal. I have a house in a small, tangled garden, and though if I listen carefully, I can hear distant traffic, I usually wake up to the sound of birds singing in the trees outside my window— rainbow lorikeets and magpies, usually, which is magic. This is the sound of lorikeets.
If I moved, I'd probably move to the country near the beach. I used to live next to the beach, near here — this is Charles Conder's 1888 painting, "A Holiday at Mentone." I do miss my nightly walk along the beach, which is these days populated with joggers. But really the only thing I want to change about where I live is my house — I need to renovate or rebuild. But it's such a disruption I keep putting it off.
I could write books about dream homes. Probably already have. <G> I'm a house-aholic, as anyone who has followed my career can attest. We're ever in search of our dream home. But after going through so many of them, we have become jaded. Every home has flaws. They're things, just like the furniture in them. It's the ideas populating your head and the people populating your life who are more important.
I hope. Because we'll be dumping 40 years worth of collections and making the final reduction in scale from our peak at about 6k square feet and a quarter of block of land to 1400 sf on a postage stamp.
I think we'd need at least four houses to cover all our desires! minimum.
Joanna's aerie is gorgeous, but I wouldn't want to live in such isolation. Like Jo, I prefer to have people around as long as they're not too close and they don't bother me. <G> In fact, I'm a born suburbanite—I want trees and a country feel, but with lots of upscale conveniences nearby. I grew up on a farm in homogeneous rural country which was lovely, but—homogeneous. I certainly didn't hate it, but I couldn't wait to get away (and skipped a year of high school in order to get away sooner.) I yearned for exciting diversity and crowds to disappear into and a chance to find my own tribe, though I wasn't as articulate about it then. So I went to a fairly large university and found that broader world and never lived in rural western NY again.
I lived in California and England before docking in Maryland, and I like it here. There’s great diversity in the terrain, from ocean to mountains. It’s in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard and has a moderate sort of temperament that appeals to me. My present house is surrounded by trees and feels rather rural, but everything one can need is within a few miles. Perfect!
Growing up in the Adirondacks in a small town near Lake George NY, surrounded by spectacular views of mountains and lakes, where the air is sweet, clear and tangy with pine, kind of spoils one later for a great place to live -- especially if one has to leave, as I did as a teenager when my father was transferred to a company in Maryland. In some ways the Adirondacks reminds me of parts of Scotland, one reason my heart is in both upstate NY and Scotland.
I still live in Maryland, a great place with some very pretty scenery...but I will never ever, being Northern born and bred, acclimatize to the ghastly humidity or the long, hot summers -- and, being Northern, the winters here are dampish and icy rather than snow-globe beautiful (okay, and winter can be treacherous and bitter in the north, but writers can stay indoors and dream instead of venture out on snowy days!). So I wouldn't say I'm living in my dream place. I'm here more or less by default, and my family is here, in a nice suburban home with all the amenities and conveniences. I go up north (and off to Scotland) whenever I can, which helps balance living with beastly humidity and a low mountain profile in the distance.
What's my dream home? A castle. A manor house. A cabin by a mountain lake. If I could pick one home, any home, that could be mine ... I think I'd go for Scott's Abbotsford. To me, that's a little bit of what is surely heaven.
I grew up in suburban Tacoma, within walking distance to school, mom and pop grocery stores, the neighborhood park, and streets so safe kids could play in them. But it was definitely “city,” and my sister and I yearned for the rural life since early childhood. Maybe we were influenced by the popular Westerns on TV that glorified the pioneer life.
While a city can be alluring and exciting, it can also be draining. I never feel drained in the country. Instead, I am energized. The country life fills a deep primal need in me.
Where would I live if money were no object? Smack in the middle of a national forest. I’d like about 100 acres of forest and meadow of my own, surrounded by a 10-foot chain link fence. I wouldn’t forsake my social life, because there are very few places left anymore where you are completely isolated. I’d still attend my weekly critique group meetings and do things with my sister, and participate in holidays and go out to dinner and movies. But my deepest desire is to live away from the city’s fast pace, invasive lights, and intrusive security cameras. I want a place where I can shed the city trappings and feel closer to Mother Earth.
I’ll never forget the time I was riding my mare in the woods on one of the old logging roads behind my barn, when she suddenly stopped and looked up. I looked up too, and saw a huge owl glide by, just over our heads, coasting silently with wings outstretched. It landed on a dead tree several yards ahead, then folded its wings and turned to look at us. It was a magical moment that both my mare and I enjoyed in reverent silence. You don’t get that in the city.
I think I’m the only Wench who is living just a few miles from where I grew up. Now, I haven’t been here all my life—for a number of years I lived right in Manhattan, and unlike some of the others, I find a lot to like about big cities. One can often feed off the bustle and energy in a positive way. And then there are the wealth of cultural attractions and opportunities, especially in New York, as well as the restaurants, theaters, shops and all the quirky little places tucked away in unexpected places that surprise and delight.
But at heart, I find the simple beauties of nature even more appealing, so I’m up here in the woods now, where I can see deer and foxes and a gaggle of funny crows who often come quork around in my front lawn, just below my writing window, and make me smile. The subtle hues of a sunset over the nearby Long Island Sound, the textures of a country stone wall, the way the sunlight plays on the wild raspberries growing in my backyard—these all make me stop and appreciate what really matters whenever I start to let myself get tied in knots by life’s everyday stresses.
So, despite having not strayed too far afield from my roots, I feel I have the best of both worlds. I have the country and solitude, which suits my introvert nature. But the city is just an hour away, and I’m often there for the day. A half hour in the other direction and I’m in New Haven, where I can take advantage of all the fascinating lectures, art, music and films that go on at Yale University.
As for where my dream home would be? A villa in Tuscany, where the light and the deep connection to the earth and to history is very powerful, would be wonderful. So would a chalet in the Swiss Alps—I love the majestic sense of space, the quiet and the vistas of mountains.
It's so interesting to think about why we choose places to live. I already knew that I like to be close to things whereas others value solitude, but when Joanna claimed her cabin was fine because "There's a grocery store, library, and restaurants about ten miles away..." I cyber-shrieked, "Ten
miles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" We live in a small town within walking
distance of shops, library, doctor etc etc. Our nearest city, Exeter, is 12
miles away, but we need a really good reason for such a Big Trip.
I grew up in Morecambe, and we walked to nearly everything. Lancaster was
about 4 miles away and going there was an occasion. Mind you, we didn't have a
car. I wonder how many people in North America grew up without a car. That
shapes our patterns.
There's also a cultural pattern in our perception of distances. Apparently most
communities in England (hamlets, villages and such) are less than four miles
from each other, leaving aside moors and such. To illustrate, as I said, the
Big Smoke is 12 miles away, but between are Starcross, 4 miles away, Kenton, 6
miles, and Exminster, 8.
My other requirement for an ideal location is the sea. I was born in a room
overlooking the sea and grew up on the beach. Everything is different when
we're close to the sea -- the air, the light, and perhaps even the earth.
Seismometers can pick up the waves hitting land from hundreds of miles away, so
it's possible we can sense the earth's heartbeat beneath our feet. And miss it
if it's not there.
MJP again. "Home" is a profound influence on our lives and souls, whether it's a home of the heart or a home of circumstances. How do you feel about where you live? And where would you live if you were free to choose?
Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill....
Mary Jo, who lives inside the Baltimore Beltway but can watch deer right outside her living room windows
I adore fish and chips. I grew up inland and fish were not a regular part of the diet, but on rare occasions, we’d go to a “fish fry.” That was a fundraiser dinner put on by a local fire department with fish and French fries and I don’t remember what else, but surely pies would have been there for dessert, this being Upstate New York.
The wonderful crunch of deep fried batter contrasted so beautifully with the mild white fish within. Fabulous! The experience was so far from the dreary fish sticks served regularly in the school cafeteria that I never considered them even remotely related.
Later I realized that fish and chips are the iconic food of the British Isles, which are bodies of land completely surrounded by fish. Potatoes grow really well there, too. Fish and chips as we know them required deep fat frying, and appeared in the Britain in the 1860s.
Both Lancashire and London claim to have invented fish and chips: here’s a sign commemorating the London location. There is also a theory that deep fried fish began in London and moved north while chip shops originated in Scotland and moved south, and they met and married in the Midlands. I’m not sure if that’s true—the facts are not entirely clear—but as a romance writer, I like it. <G>
The idea for this blog struck when Wench Jo Beverley recently had a birthday. Forget chocolate—she wanted fish and chips for her birthday treat.
I understood perfectly. Indeed, during my recent trip to Ireland, I ordered fish and chips several times and consumed them with great pleasure. Possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had were at the Crackpots restaurant in Kinsale. I think the fish leaped right out of the boat and into the deep fat fryer. (Traditionally beef drippings were used, but now it's more likely to be something like peanut oil.)
Nicola Cornick: “I was brought up on fish and chips. It was a staple meal in the Yorkshire of my childhood and we were lucky enough to live just around the corner from a prizewinning fish and chip shop. The smell of fat was very pungent!
I particularly liked having a bag of chips in the evening with the little left over bits of batter sprinkled on top of the chips. These were called scraps in my part of the world but have different names in different parts of the UK. Cod wasn't on the menu in those days. It was all haddock from the North Sea and deliciously fresh. I didn't like vinegar but had lots of salt. My arteries are probably irreparably furred. These days I eat fish and chips much less frequently and my favourite fish and chip experience is sitting outside the Applecross Inn in the West Highlands of Scotland eating fish and chips and looking across the sea to Skye."
I thought fish and chips would be popular in former parts of the Empire, and sure enough, weighing in from Australia:
Anne Gracie: “Mary Jo, fish and chips is still very popular here, though we don't have British cod, which is delicious. Flake (or shark) is the most popular fish for fish and chips, mainly because there are no surprise bones, I suspect, not for the flavor, which is fairly bland. For me there's nothing better than sitting on the beach or in a park, eating fish and chips straight from the paper — none of this plate or knife and fork nonsense. And it's still a "first day of the holidays" ritual for many people. When my writers retreat group go on retreat, it's usually our first meal of the retreat— fish and chips and champagne.”
Canada: another country heard from!:
Jo Beverley: “I had great fish and chips in Hobart, Tasmania. Dorado, maybe? I like haddock. Don't much like cod. In Canada the choice was between halibut and cod and I went for halibut. I remember in Nova Scotia stopping by a van for fried clams and chips. The fish needs to be fresh. At a pinch it can be previously frozen, but days old fish is never, ever good. Morecambe, where I grew up, had been a fishing village and there were still fishermen bringing in the catch. The fish we ate was always really fresh.”
Traditionally, Americans have to work harder or travel farther for their fish and chips:
Susan King: “I didn't have GOOD fish and chips until my first trip to England in college. Then I was totally, uh, hooked. As it were. I have tried them in several places in England and Scotland, and wherever I can find them over here. The best I've ever had -- a small pub at the foot of the castle hill in Stirling, Scotland. Not only delicious battered fish and perfect chips, but the peas were garden fresh. Best ever. Not to mention great atmosphere.”
I discovered this when I was researching my young adult novels, in which time traveling teens moved from Regency England to World War II. And they all loved fish and chips. The chippy in their town was called The Codfather.
Some Americans have yet to meet proper fish and chips:
“Cara/Andrea confesses that fish and chips is not part of her culinary experience, but after hearing the other Wenches wax poetic on its appeal, she promises to try it next time she is in England.”
"There is something about chippies that calls forth puns: A Salt and Battery, A Batter Plaice (plaice being a common British fish), Salmon to Watch Over Me, The Frying Scotsman, and Oh, My Cod. So you get not only food but entertainment.
Traditionally, fish and chips were served in a newspaper cone, and it’s said that the porosity of the newsprint was perfect for absorbing oil and preventing greasiness. Since newspaper inks might not have been as healthy, it’s not longer used, to the regret of some. Ideally, you’d eat them from a cone, piping hot and delicious on a cold, windy day, while walking home with your mates.
I like that it's now much more possible to get good fish and chips than used to be the case. They're not exactly health food, but in my research, I find that they're significantly lower in fat and calories than a lot of the other standard American fast foods
Here’s are some fun facts from a British Food website:
“Deep-fried fish in a crispy batter with fat golden chips is still one of Britain and Ireland's favorite meals. The love for them ranks alongside Roast Beef and Yorkshire Puddings, and the recently nominated Chicken Tikka Masala, as the English National Dish.”
Compared to other take-away foods Fish and chips have: 9.42 grams of fat per 100 grams. The average pizza has 11, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 12.1, Whopper meal with medium fries has 14.5, chicken korma 15.5 and doner kebab 16.2.
Fish and chips have 595 calories in the average portion - an average pizza has 871, Big Mac meal with medium fries has 888, Whopper meal with medium fries has 892, chicken korma 910 and doner kebab 924.
Statistics courtesy of Seafish UK.
Fish and chips are a good source of protein and vitamins, too. The discussion of fish and chips on the Wench loop sent half of us out to eat some. <G> Luckily, they’ve gotten easier to find in the US—there are a couple of Irish pubs near me that do a very decent job. So I went to the nearest pub for lunch. <G>
Have you had a chance to eat proper British-style fish and chips? If so, did you love or hate them? If not—would you like to give them a try?
Fiona Simpson, Janice W. Rholetter, Marilyn Rondeau, Diane Willems, Nan Axelton, Suzy Kitson, Michelle K., and Glenda. Congratulations, winners!
July 25 - Guest Emma Campion (host: Susan)
July 30 - What We're Reading (host: Nicola)
Aug 15 - Ask-a-Wench (host: Anne)
Aug 29 - What We're Reading (host: Jo Beverley)