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The Wenches

  • Mary Jo Putney

  • Patricia Rice

  • Susan Fraser King

  • Anne Gracie

  • Nicola Cornick

  • Andrea Penrose

  • Christina Courtenay

In Memoriam

  • Jo Beverley
    Word Wench 2006-2016

  • Edith Layton
    Word Wench 2006-2009

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  • Years published: 164

    Novels published: 231

    Novellas published: 74

    Range of story dates: nine centuries (1026-present)

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Mary T

As fondly as I remember those "slower and gentler" times I don't necessarily want to go back to them. I both appreciate and occasionally curse the advantages of modern life. I do always have my cell phone with me - mostly for safety reasons. And it is not a smartphone. I don't want a phone that is smarter than me.

The amazing thing about twitter is that so many people seem to speak without thinking. I see so many unkind and hateful things out there. They don't give the editor in their brains a chance to work - you know - the part of you that says "don't say that out loud."

Great blog. What interesting things you guys find when you go down that rabbit hole.


Very interesting topic, which reminded me to reread the Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, where the telegraph actually plays a significant role in one of the revenge plots of the count.
Here is Dumas' description (taken from Project Gutenberg) of the telegraph:
... Yes, a telegraph. I had often seen one placed at the end of a road on a hillock, and in the light of the sun its black arms, bending in every direction, always reminded me of the claws of an immense beetle, and I assure you it was never without emotion that I gazed on it, for I could not help thinking how wonderful it was that these various signs should be made to cleave the air with such precision as to convey to the distance of three hundred leagues the ideas and wishes of a man sitting at a table at one end of the line to another man similarly placed at the opposite extremity, and all this effected by a simple act of volition on the part of the sender of the message. I began to think of genii, sylphs, gnomes, in short, of all the ministers of the occult sciences, until I laughed aloud at the freaks of my own imagination. Now, it never occurred to me to wish for a nearer inspection of these large insects, with their long black claws, for I always feared to find under their stone wings some little human genius fagged to death with cabals, factions, and government intrigues. But one fine day I learned that the mover of this telegraph was only a poor wretch, hired for twelve hundred francs a year, and employed all day, not in studying the heavens like an astronomer, or in gazing on the water like an angler, or even in enjoying the privilege of observing the country around him, but all his monotonous life was passed in watching his white-bellied, black-clawed fellow insect, four or five leagues distant from him. At length I felt a desire to study this living chrysalis more closely, and to endeavor to understand the secret part played by these insect-actors when they occupy themselves simply with pulling different pieces of string.” ...

As for writing letters, I have a horrible handwriting and always hated letter writing.Postcards I still send, but everything else is mails and SMS and so on


Not long ago I went on a hike with my sister and her 2 year old twins and didn't take my phone because I figured I'm outdoors and will have my hands full with the kids. I hadn't been on that trail before and it was beautiful and I was so mad I didn't have my phone for the camera. :)

I do try to make sure I have time away from my phone and have the notifications for social media apps turned off. I get to decide when to check, I don't let the app decide for me.

Sue McCormick

I am fond of modern speed. Yes, it allows for the spread of pure drivel, but it also speeds true communication.

A trivial example: On Monday a posteded a "funny" I had enjoyed; before the day was out this had been read around the world (and likes at come in for widely spaced areas). Trivial, yes, but also a quick way to spread joy.

30 years ago, Bob and I moved back to Missouri following our 7-years "exile" ih the NYC area. My younger daughter was working on Manhattan. She needed some editorial advice on foratting a document she was preparing for one of her lawyers. She enailed me, I responded, with demonstration, she asked for clarification. She then emailed "This is quicker than the telephone!" The five to ten minute exfchange had increased her productivity for years.

Pamela DG

I barely use my cellphone. It's never on in the car, or when I'm at home. I have a land line. I have it mainly for traveling and emergencies. As for my laptop, it's a blessing and a curse. The word processing ability is a blessing, getting sucked into instant research and spending way to much time chasing after the facts I need can be a curse as it can limit the amount of time I have to work. As a genealogist, online records are a blessing, but the computer leads to too many mistakes by other family historians who have no commitment to accuracy is a curse. Heaven knows, when I started my family tree, I was not as accurate as I should have been.

Beverly Abney

I don't have a smart phone or any portable device that I carry around. I do have a flip phone that I keep in my pocket in case of emergency and to make long distance calls since they are already paid for. I think I would love to go back a little to a slightly less device ridden time. I write letters to friends in email though. And I love my simple desk top computer for things like WORD WENCHES.

Andrea Penrose

Mary T, it's always hard to put the genie back in the bottle! I, too, don't want to go back to the pre-internet/cellphone days (yes, a mobile is a godsend in an emergency, so good to have.)

You've hit the nail on the head about the dark side of instant communication. Everyone has a voice, whether they should use it or not! People do react without thinking. Putting words on paper does make you reflect on what you're actually saying. That's a good thing!

Andrea Penrose

Wow—i had forgotten that part! Really interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Andrea Penrose

Misti, I carry my phone just for that reason. I like photography, and one of the real benefits of the modern technology is the great cameras in cellphone. I get a lot of pleasure out of the creativeity.

Andrea Penrose

Sue, it's so true that the things one call do with tech outweigh the dark side of it. It's an amazing tool for research. (That's how I stumbled on the article on semaphores, and then within a half hour found a bunch more really interesting articles. I find a lot ideas for my books by serendipitous links to things I wasn't actually looking for in the first place.

Andrea Penrose

Pam, yes, there are pluses and minuses. The internet can be the mother of all rabbit holes! But I love falling down unexpected places, so I'll put up with the junk.

Andrea Penrose

Ha! Glad you enjoy finding us through the ether, Bev! I write e-letters. The benefit is getting a reply so quickly, which is nice.

I'm not constantly glued to my devices. I like a "quieter" pace of life, though I appreciate the convenience when I want to get something done quickly.


A great topic - everybody has an opinion about phones!

When phones were just flipfones, like Captain Kirk's communicator, I always had mine with me but I rarely used it. I had developed a guilt feeling if I left it behind though; one of my brothers was then ill and I was terrified that I might miss a message from him or the family. Also callboxes were disappearing along California freeways so if I got stuck somewhere I needed a phone of my own. I used it for work also sometimes but I didn't care about that.

One day I was making a Costco run and I looked seriously at the new phones with screens and cameras. They were a fascinating gadgets. So I bought one. At first I didn't quite know what to do with it; now I can't imagine life without it. It's my 911, my kindle, my camera, my notetaker, my encyclopedia, my lifeline to my friends. I am one who will go back if she finds she's left it at home. It has saved my life once at least. I won't be without it.

I still have a landline (of sorts - it too is over the internet) for those one or two people who *might* call the old number by mistake, and to keep all those Chinese computer tech and auto warranty salespeople employed. It is also helpful for calling my cell number when I can't find where I left my phone. (It's usually under a book or on the bed.)

The only downside to cellphones that I know of is that sometimes in hot weather or heavy use they overheat. I did once put mine in the freezer for more than the minute or so it takes to cool the battery and it was *very* cold when I finally remembered it! But it worked.

During the late months of the virus slamdown, my phone and the instant contact it can provide helped keep me reasonably sane. That, and the good books I read, thanks in part to suggestions I saw here.


I meant to add that yes, of course I still write letters, but they're emails, not paper (unless the recipient prints them, which I don't imaging they do).

I also save letters, both email and written. Many people I loved are gone now and it seems to help to have some of their words to look at now and then as a tangible reminder that they once existed and culd be talked with.

I have one friend who customarily sends handwritten thank you notes for lunches and that, so I send handwritten notes back. I still send cards and notes through the mail when it seems important to do so. These are all to people in my age range, who were raised with that custom. Younger people seem to think a text (if that) is adequate thanks. It's a change in manners, not technology.


I send emails, but I also send letters, postcards, birthday cards, and holiday letters through the mail.

I have a flip phone which I use to take photos as well as to stay in touch with family and friends. I do appreciate technology, but I'll agree that there are downsides.

Thanks for an informative and thought provoking post, Andrea.

Sue McCormick

Pam: Somewhat off topic. When I'm doing genealogy, I look up all those false trees in order to see if they will supply clues to new research, but NONE of the information from those trees is entered into my research.

(I feel justified, because this habit is a good one for ALL of us to follow, in whatever research we are doing. And I believe that most of us here, if not all of us, are gluttons for research. So, although Pam and I have mentioned genealogy, the idea behind my statement is more wide spread.)

Mary Jo Putney

Very interesting, Andrea! I never thought of the semaphore system as a prot0-Twitter, but you made you case!

There's a book called THE VICTORIAN INTERNET which is about the telegraph. The Mayhem Consultant scarfed it right up. But the pace of change is getting way too fast for me!

Patricia Franzino

I only have my cell phone with me if I am on vacation and want to take a photo.

When I'm back home and out in the neighborhood, I only have it if I am expecting an important text, call or email, otherwise it stays in the apartment.

If I'm on a long train ride, I will watch videos on it.

I like the quick pace to receive answers. I have no desire to go back to the past.

Many times if I am doing something else in the morning, I will turn on the cell later.

Anne Gracie

Fun blog, Andrea.
Made me think of the Terry Pratchett book —forgotten which title it is — where "the clacks" are invented. Might have to dig it out and reread it.
Just found it:
"The Clacks is the informal nickname for the semaphore system that is the fastest means of non-magical communication on the Discworld. It was first seen in The Fifth Elephant, and featured heavily in Going Postal. The system was invented by Robert Dearheart, and later run by the Grand Trunk Semaphore Company."

Binnie Syril Braunstein

Great post,Andrea. I do have my Android smartphone with me at all times. It's a lifeline. I will admit to being a news and research junkie and I find many articles of interest generate by the news feed. I constantly troll for juicy literary tidbits to include in a bi-weekly newsletter for a book collectors group. I'm also the telephone support coordinator for an organization (Operation Paperback) that supplies (free) books to our U.S. military. I get related calls all the time, so I have to be able to keep in touch. I don't care much for Twitter; I visit the site once a month - maybe. As for (real) letters - yes, I do write them. But when I do, it must be on beautiful stationary (I love Italian papers with a smooth feel and beautiful borders). And any letter must of necessity be written with a special pen. (Cross is good.)

Joanna Maitland

Like Katja, my first thought was The Count of Monte Cristo and how he subverted the French semaphore system for his own ends. The French used it a lot and with great success. The British, possibly less so?

For example, the news of the victory at Waterloo was carried to London by Major Henry Percy by horse-drawn carriage after he crossed the Channel. The battle was on 18th June but the news didn't reach London until late at night on 21st June. I imagine it would have arrived several hours earlier if the semaphore system has been used. OTOH, the dramatic gesture of laying two eagles at the feet of the Prince Regent couldn't have been done by semaphore, could it?

Andrea Penrose

Janice, I don't consider myself a tech-y person. I don't have Siri to turn on my lights, or other of those other "help"gadgets, which just don't appeal to me.

But I agree—the smartphone is a wonder. I use my camera a lot on my daily walks, and it gives me such pleasure to capture moments in nature that appeal to my eye. I also love have my books at hand on kindle if I find myself stuck somewhere. And checking directions, or research on the fly is a huge hlep.

But most important, as you say, is the connection to family and friends. My college roommates and I really connected even more during the pandemic, and we are now constantly texting each other with funny little updates or photos . . .I get an unexpected smile during the day from that. So I wouldn't give up my phone either! (Love the freezer story!)

Andrea Penrose

Totally agree with all this, too! I write real letters by e-mail . . . I wish I did it more on paper.

And yes, it's manners, or mindset. The younger people seem to think in sound bytes. Not to be a curmudgeon, but they might benefit from trying to write thoughtful, meaningful letter . . .

Andrea Penrose

Glad yu enjoyed it, Kareni. I think most of us see the value of cellphones, and as I've mentioned in other comments here, I do love the photo ability. But I'm probably on the low end of tech, and happy to stay there.

Andrea Penrose

Sue, thanks for sharing this thought! It's SO true, especialli in this day and age. Careful research and critical thinking about what is true and what isn't is so vital . . . and I fear it's under grave threat.

Andrea Penrose

LOL! It suddenly struck me when I read about the basic length of the message (for tech reasons) and I found the comparison very funny.

I need to get that book! (You may guess where my thoughts are going for a furure mystery!)

Andrea Penrose

Patricia, you're more disciplined than I am! I do take my phone with me, as I feel you never know when you might have some sort of emergency. But I'm not constantly talking on it. (My pet peeve is that so many people need constant stimulation rather than quiet times, and yak WAY too much in public!)

Andrea Penrose

Thanks, Anne. I don't know that Pratchett book, which sounds like great fun! Must look it up!

Andrea Penrose

Binnie, you're right—a smartphone is in many ways a lifeline, and I wouldn't be without it.

How wonderful that you're involved in in getting free books to our military. What a great and important project. Thank you!

I, too, try to use special paper and fountain pens when taking the time to write a real letter. I love making them special.

Andrea Penrose

Joanna, So true about the eagles!

I think the news about Waterloo couldn't have been done by semaphore because there wasn't a "route" that would have allowed the message to pass across the Channel. (You had to have your men in place at each station, plus the cross-water distance would have been too great for the optical signal.)


I knew semaphore flags were used by ships at sea, but I didn't know they were used on land. It's a more sophisticated version of smoke signals which travelled from hilltop to hilltop.
I do use my smart phone constantly, my whole life is on it! It's an address book, exercise tracker, appointment calendar and notepad. It even tells me where my car is parked when I walk in the woods and lose track of my direction. But I have all app notifications turned off, and often the phone ringer is on silent. I used to email more, but now if I have an urge to share a photo I took, or a funny meme or news article, I tend to do it on social media. Ironically, as a result, people I barely know, or don't know at all in real life, know more about where I've been and what I'm doing than some of my closest friends who refuse to use Facebook or Instagram.

Annette N

I loved this post, thank you, Andrea.

I regularly send cards and letters and notes to several people in my life. Interestingly, I never get a response. But, I continue to send because to me, it means a great deal. Hopefully, whether they respond or not, it gives them a good feeling.

I had heard of the semaphores...and it was in a movie, but I cannot for the life of me remember the film. It was misused so someone could have an advantage...again, still no idea of where or when.

Finally. I use devices - two kindles to get books. I love to use them, and even better, it allows me to have books always ready to read. I am a book addict, after all.

But, I do not use my phone for anything but calls and texts. I still have a landline. In some ways going back to a slower time, sounds good to me.

I am going to say something that makes me seem like a really old grumpy person....well actually I am.

I think the anonymity of the internet has taken away our humanity. I can be hateful as I choose to be, and there are no consequences. I can say things I know to be untrue, and again, no consequences. Cause once something is out there - it will be repeated and believed by someone. And from there it will spread, like wildfire.

I feel sorry for what has happened to us.

I believe that we are here to care about one another, not hurt one another, just because we can

I hope everyone is well and happy and safe.

Mary M.

Marian Chesney's The Convenient Marriage has a turning point when the banker Rothschild gets news of Wellington's victory by carrier pigeon while everyone else still thinks his army was routed. So while others were panic-selling, Rothschild was buying. Can't remember how the hero was linked up with him, but it enabled the hero to make a fortune for himself and his father-in-law, who had previously seen him as a useless fribble.

Susan Lantz

Now that I am semi-retired, I do not panic if I go somewhere without my cell phone. I also still hand write letters to friends and relatives, with a fountain pen.

Andrea Penrose

yes, I know that story, too!Wall Street intrigue and "insider trading" is nothing new!

Andrea Penrose

Karin, I'm like you! I appreciate all the things the phone can do, but I LOATH all the constant beeping and chirping that would constantly be going on if I didn't have everything turned off except for the phone ting. It's no wonder that most people have no attention span! How you can think about anything carefully with the constant interruptions is beyond me. (Especially as most of it just isn't important.)

Andrea Penrose

Annette, I too, appreciate my kindle, and the other conveniences of a cellphone. But I do hand write letters, too. (Not as much as I should!)

I couldn't agree with you more about the dangers and soul-eating effects of the internet. There is so much hate and deliberate evil going on. Not sure how we can sift it out of the positive things. I do worry about what it's doing to society.

Andrea Penrose

Susan (waving madly to say hello!) I'm another fountain pen lover! If I write a letter these days, I want to go all the way with the elegance of the past. I love the look of real ink . . and I also use quality paper. Now, if only my handwriting were up to snuff!

Christina Courtenay

A wonderful post, Andrea - fascinating! I find it scary how dependent we are on our cellphones/mobiles now - really makes you wonder how we ever coped in the past! I too remember debating the cost of long distance phone calls. My parents lived in Japan and I was in Sweden so it had to be for something really important. Loved reading about the start of it all!

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