Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas isn't just a song

I have a confession. I've started this blog about a dozen times (maybe more) but holiday festivities keep getting in my way. If it's not a house filled with friends and family, it's an all-day baking extravaganza or a napping session after over-indulging in all those baked goods.

But I'm working on a story that begins shortly after the Christmas season, so Medieval merrymaking is very much on my mind this year (although I couldn't find anyone who wanted to try a figgy pudding). Medieval Christmas celebrations were very different and yet very much the same as ours.

Most of the festivities centered on feasting and friends, with gift giving and worship rounding out the corners.

Rather than a month-long build up to Dec. 25, however, most of the holiday mirth and merrymaking began Christmas Day and ended Jan. 5, the beginning of Epiphany, which celebrates the Wise Men's arrival to present gifts to the baby Jesus.

During the early Middle Ages, Epiphany was the primary winter holiday with no fixed date to celebrate Christ's birth. However, in the 4th century, Pope Julius I set Dec. 25 as the day to celebrate the Nativity. Over time, various pagan customs associated with the Winter Solstice were incorporated into the seasonal celebrations until Yuletide became the time for feasting, socializing and praying.

Christmas courts were opulent affairs, marked by music, feasts and remnants of pagan rites. Nobles competed with each other to put on the biggest and most varied feasts. Lavish celebrations weren't just for the elite. Minor nobles invited servants and retainers to the castle, and leftovers were given to the poor.

Twelfth Night celebrations included more food and friends. Gifts were usually exchanged on Twelfth Night rather than Christmas eve or day, and Christmas decorations were taken down.

Today, most of the holiday season happens between Christmas and New Year's. We hear very little about Epiphany outside of church services, but I know many people who still take down their tree by Jan. 5 without realizing it's part of the medieval holiday tradition.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Twas The Night Before Christmas Poem

Prior to the creation of the story of Twas the night before Christmas St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, had never been associated with a sleigh or reindeers!



Twas The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.



The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.



When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.



The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.



With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!



"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"



As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.



And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.



He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.



His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.



The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!



He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.



He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!



He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

The author of the poem Twas the night before Christmas was Clement Clarke Moore (1779 - 1863). It was published anonymously by the New York Sentinel.  It has become a tradition in many American families to read the poem every Christmas Eve. The first publication date was 23rd December 1823 and it was an immediate success. It was not until 1844 that Moore claimed ownership when the work was included in a book of his poetry. Clement Clarke Moore came from a prominent family and his father Benjamin Moore was the Bishop of New York who was famous for officiating at the inauguration of George Washington. The tradition of reading Twas the night before Christmas poem on Christmas Eve is now a Worldwide institution.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Conversation with Mistletoe

Greetings all, I am Mistletoe. You know me--the green plant with white berries you most often see at Christmas time. My association with Christmas arises because I am an evergreen and will remain green even in the dead of winter, but you can see me all year if you know where to look. Mainly on apple and oak trees.

Most often, people hang me or one of my relatives from chandeliers or above doorways so gentlemen can kiss their sweethearts. Ah, Christmas love. I thoroughly enjoy my role as Christmas matchmaker.

I enjoy it so much, that I am the hero of Linda Banche’s Mistletoe Everywhere. What, you say? How can a plant be a romance hero? Isn’t Sir Charles Gordon the hero? Well, he thinks he is, but my name is in the title, not his. And I have the pivotal role in the story.

In any event, how can the didactic Charles be the hero? He never again wants to see the lovely Penelope because she jilted him. Or so he says. Meanwhile, according to Penelope, Charles withdrew his marriage proposal after she had accepted. While I have no intention of taking sides, something havy cavy is going on.

Although I am best known as a Christmas fertility symbol, I have another persona as the plant of peace. In medieval times, enemies who met under the mistletoe had to lay down their weapons and call a truce for twenty-four hours. This ceasing of hostilities afforded them a chance to talk out their differences rather than resorting to violence.

Can either of my identities help Charles and Penelope? I flatter myself that I am just the plant to do it. As luck, or perhaps, design would have it, I am on the scene as both fertility symbol and plant of peace in Mistletoe Everywhere.

Let me see if I can reunite these erstwhile lovers.

Thank you all,
Mistletoe

As told to Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!
http://www.lindabanche.com
Mistletoe Everywhere Buy Link: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/mistletoe-everywhere-p-4295.html

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Christmas Tree

A Christmas Tree


I have been looking at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas Tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high above their heads. It was brillantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers; and everywhere sparkled and glittered with bright objects. There were rosy-cheeked dolls, hiding behind the green leaves; and...sugar-plums; there were trinkets for the elder girls, far brighter than any grown-up gold and jewels...there were teetotums, humming tops, needle-cases, pen-wipers...real fruit, made artificially dazzling with gold leaf; imitation apples, pears, and walnuts, crammed with surprises; in short, as a pretty child, before me, delightedly whisped to another pretty child, her bosom friend, "There was everything and more."


-Charles Dickens, Household Word



I just finished decorating my tree and I'm sitting in my living room, enjoying the view with a glass of wine. It doesn't matter if it is 2010 or the 1800's -- a Christmas tree is a thing of beauty. I hope you all have a wonderful, safe Christmas and Happy New Year!

Maggie

Monday, December 6, 2010

An ancient Roman Holiday - and an early (free) Christmas present?

It may not have been Christmas exactly, but the ancient Roman Saturnalia (17th-23rd. December) was certainly an opportunity for feasting and gift-giving. Over the years, this time of merry-making, sacrifices and gift-giving expanded to a week and the poet Catullus - who knew a thing or two about parties - called it 'the best of days'.

In many ways this ancient festival was rather like Christmas:

Schools were on holiday.

Gambling was allowed.

Shopping at special markets was encouraged.

Holiday clothes were worn - the informal, colourful 'dining clothes' instead of the plain, bulky toga.

Presents were given - parrots, wax candles, dice, combs, perfumes, little pottery dolls.

Feasting was indulged, with Saturn himself in charge as Lord of Misrule.

People wished each other a merry Saturnalia with the evocation, 'io Saturnalia!' ('Yo Saturnalia!')

The Pompeiian partygoers in the picture come from the BBC's Ancient Rome pages.

My historical romance, 'Flavia's Secret' is set in Roman Britain and has its climax during the Saturnalia. As a possible early Christmas present, Bookstrand have Flavia's Secret on offer as a free ebook from now until Valentine's Day. If you haven't tried one of my books yet, here's a chance!

For details of the book and the free download, go to:
http://www.bookstrand.com/flavias-secret .

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Period Men

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vampires, Then and Now

So, you ask, what do vampires have to do with Historical Belles and Beaus?

I'd ask that myself and indeed, did, before I started to write this post.

If you ever read my bio you'll see that I'm a HUGE fan of Alexandre Dumas. He set the bar for me on what a great read is. My favorite is the Count of Monte Cristo -- no one does revenge better than Edmund Dantes.

If you know me at all, you know I'm not much for vampire stories. I read quite a few when those first alpha vampires hit the scene about 10 years ago or so and then I lost interest. They just didn't do it for my anymore and I went back to the historicals I fell in love with when I first "discovered" romance. That and romantic suspense. Okay and cozy mysteries.

So what do vampires and Alexandre Dumas have to do with me and how did they end up together?

I decided my reading gift to myself for 2011 would be reading all of Alexandre Dumas' books from the very first to the last, The Cavalier. He was quite prolific so I imagine it will take more than a year. I looked high and low for a copy of Captain Paul, his first, in English. None to be had so I picked up Queen Margot. As I looked down his list of books, however, I spotted Le Vampire (The Return of Lord Ruthven). That completely grabbed my attention. Dumas wrote a vampire novel (actually a play). I had to have it -- I'm still looking for a copy in English and did find a publisher that has it. He wrote it long before Bram Stoker conceived of the beloved Count Dracula yet Stoker gets all the vampire credit.

My hunt for The Return of Lord Ruthven (in English) led me to the book I brought home tonight:  A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Vampire Stories. 464 pages of Victorian vampires. I've been gleefully rubbing my hands together since I brought it home. The cover is marvelous -- dark like an old black and white movie (I love the classics) with a castle in the background. It conjures up all that is the true, classic vampire.

And then it hit me...I actually DO like vampire stories, but it's the originals, the classics that I love. Dumas' Lord Ruthven is deemed a Bryonesque vampire, one you cannot help but feel a longing for. Contrasted with Bram Stoker's Dracula and Bela Lugosi's portrayal of him. It is a toss up, for me, whether Lugosi or Frank Langella's Dracula is the most appealing to me. Definitely Langella for the brooding loops and making my heart go pit-a-pat (he was so goregous when he was young). But there is something about Bela Lugosi's portrayal.

Of course I adore Jonathan Frid's character of Barnabas Collins. How could you not feel bad for him and his unrequited love? And then there was George Hamilton in Love at First Bite.

The "modern" vampires, at least the ones I've read, don't have those classic brooding personalities. Oh they are sexy and total alpha males, but for me there is something about the gothic vampire. The dark castles, lit with torches. The sense of darkness encompassing their very personalities. All that makes a Gothic such a good read.

I love a hunky alpha male as much as the next girl; for my vampires there is something about the darker side seen in the Victorian and Gothic characters. There is something about the historical vampires that beckons to my imagination.

Perhaps not the most cheerful of Thanksgiving weekend entertainments, I've rented both Lugosi and Langella's Dracula movies and I have my Victorian Vampire Stories. With the rains due in this weekend they make, for me, the perfect way to spend a hauntingly dark weekend.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nano Through the Ages

November has historically become National Writers month. It is a time when writers and hope-to-be writers and folks who just want to be part of a fun event have the goal of writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. Many of us have a book we plan to write and this is our kick off. You tell the story that wants to be told and don't bother too much with grammar, point of view and those other aspects that make a book readable. That's just a short version. This week, those of us that are participating in Nano Wrimo are about 3/4 through -- if we are on goal. While it's fun and gratifying to hit that 50,000 mark in the 30 days, it is, for me, even more so to write a good story.

So as part of my own personal pep talk about it this week I thought about what would Nano Wrimo look like through the ages. What would our favorite authors say? Or famous personages. A few come to mind for me:

Cleopatra:  "Not now you asp, I will be Nanoing on the Nile."

Julius Cesear: "Nano Etu Brutae"

Helen of Troy: "Can we flee Greece next month, Paris? I'm penning my Nano this month."

Pythragorus: "The theorem is to scribe 1666 times 30 days"

Alexander Dumas: Which muskateer do you think would engage in Nano?

Shakespeare: "To Nano or not to Nano, that is the question."

Charles Dickens: "Maybe I have some more Nano please."

Patrick Henry: "Give me Nano or give me death."

Teddy Roosevelt "Nano."

The Apollo Landing "One small word for mankind, one giant step for Nano."

Okay, I'm getting silly but you get the idea.  Pick a historical figure or author and how would they view Nano?

Pick your favorite character and what would he or she have to say about it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

How to be a slightly more Professional Writer

When I wrote my first novel I thought it was a bit of a hobby - to tap away at my novels in my free time - but having just signed a deal for more novels, I realise it will become more of a time-consuming occupation. Added to which, I am completely addicted to writing now!

With the prospect of a few more books on the horizon I have finally decided that I need to look upon writing as my profession. I am not expecting to give up the day job of course, but just - heck, I need a more comfortable chair to sit in whilst I write.

So, here are a ten things I have decided to do to make me feel like a professional writer.

1. It is OK, no - more than that, a necessity to buy books. If I'm expecting the publishing industry to support me, then I should support it. No more feeling guilty over my bulging bookcase. No more hiding the Amazon receipts from my husband. Besides, books for a writer are food. We can't be productive without them.

2. Allow time to read those books - preferably not at 3am when you are propping your eyelids open with matchsticks. My TBR pile is threatening to topple over and bury me.

3. Posh pens and nice pencils, and nifty red highlighters for editing are essential, as are box files to keep the drafts that you might need to refer to again. Stationery is one of a writer's little joys.It is amazing how cheerful I get at the sight of a nice sharp pencil.

4. A good shredder. Need I say more?

5. The desk and chair should be comfortable. For ages I have propped my laptop on my knee whilst curled up on the settee, but it has done my shoulders no good whatsoever, and I have finally had to get a decent chair. I now have one of those kneeling chairs which keeps me upright at least most of the time.

6. Visits to museums and galleries and historic houses should be part of a regular schedule and not crammed in only when desperately needed for a bit of research. Otherwise where will a sense of history or new inspiration come from?

7. Limit networking. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking are promotional tools, but I spend far too much time looking at everyone else's posts in awe, and it wastes time, so I've decided to do a little less but try to make what I do more useful. Is this useful, I worry?

8. Write a little more every day. This is probably a lot harder than going out to the store for furniture, but I reckon I must give it a go as this is probably the only real key to being a pro. And I need to get a lot more organised with labelling, backing up and storing files. I lose count of the number of times I've wasted twenty minutes looking for a missing chunk of text.

9. Meeting with my writer friends for coffee occasionally is a "meeting" in the same sense that business people have meetings. It is for us to discuss the industry and our place in it. (oh yes, and eat scones and jam.)




10. Watching TV in the day is not being a slob, it is research. (As long as it is something like Michael Wood's The Story of Britain or The Tudors and not The Simpsons.)And it is also OK to sit and do nothing with a dreamy look on my face because I am actually thinking. Thinking really means I am in another century in my head, please do not disturb!

Would you like to add any other ideas to the list? Any tips or hints gratefully received!

You can find out more about my books here The Lady's Slipper comes out next week in the US.

PS. By the way, if anyone is interested in the process of writing about the 14th century there is an post by Alis Hawkins (author of Testament) on writing historical fiction here.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MISTLETOE EVERYWHERE Release Day!


Mistletoe Everywhere, my Regency Christmas comedy, is here!

BLURB:
A man who sees mistletoe everywhere is mad--or in love.

Charles sees mistletoe. Not surprising, since he's spending Christmas at Mistletoe Manor. But why does no one else see it? And why does it always appear above Penelope, the despised lady who jilted him after their last meeting?

Penelope wants nothing to do with the faithless Charles, the man who cried off after she accepted his marriage proposal. But he still stirs her heart--and he stares at her all the time. Or rather, he stares at the empty ceiling over her head…What does he see?

According to folklore, mistletoe is the plant of peace. Can Penelope and Charles, so full of hurt and anger, heed the mistletoe's message and make peace?

EXCERPT:

After Charles had heaped his plate with more food than he wanted, he took one of the empty chairs at the table bottom, as far from Penelope as possible.

His tensed muscles eased as he joked with his friends. Smythe made a comment and Charles turned to answer. He caught sight of Penelope…and a monstrous bunch of mistletoe above her.

"Gordon? What is it?" Smythe swiveled in the direction Charles was staring. He looked up and down, and from one side to the other. "I say, with your mouth hanging open like that, you must see something spectacular, but damned if I know what it is."

With an audible click, Charles clamped his jaw shut. "I thought I saw…" He forced his gaze back to his companion. "Nothing. I imagined I saw mistletoe."

Smythe's eyebrows rose. "Mistletoe?"

"Yes. The house is named 'Mistletoe Manor', so the place is filled with mistletoe decorations. Pictures, wall hangings, ceiling trim, whatnot."

"Indeed." Smythe's eyebrows rose higher. "That 'mistletoe' you saw is over that Miss Lawrence. Lovely little filly." His lips curved into a knowing grin. "My jaw dropped the first time I saw her, too."

Charles stiffened. "I was not looking at Miss Lawrence. I believed I saw mistletoe over her."

"'Mistletoe'." Symthe's grin widened. "Of course."

And I hope you will get what you want for Christmas, too!

BUY LINK: http://www.thewildrosepress.com/mistletoe-everywhere-p-4295.html
(depending where you are, the buy link may not yet be active)

CONTEST: Leave your name and email in the Guest Book on my website, http://www.lindabanche.com, for a chance to win a PDF copy of Mistletoe Everywhere. Contest runs through December 15. Note, all of you who entered my Pumpkinnapper contest are already entered to win a second copy of Mistletoe Everywhere.

Thank you all,
Linda
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!
http://www.lindabanche.com

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

THE RISE OF COFFEE HOUSES IN LONDON

Cafes in London today have little in common with coffeehouses in the last forty years of the seventeenth Century and the first half of the eighteenth. Only the fact that they offer coffee, food and the daily newspaper remains.

The first coffeehouse in England was opened in St. Michael's Alley in Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of Daniel Edwards, a trader in Turkish goods. Edwards imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment, serving cauphe ...a taste a little bitterish, from Turkey. It was noted early on that coffee would hinder sleep for three or four hours, an advantage if one wish to remain watchful. The Grand Cafe in Oxford is alleged to be the first Coffee House in England, opened in 1650 by a Jewish man named Jacob. It is still open today, but has since become a popular Wine Bar. Oxford's Queen's Lane Coffee House, established in 1654, is still in existence today. By 1675, there were more than 3,000 coffeehouses throughout England.

But coffee was strenuously opposed for more than a decade. Poets and pamphleteers decried the new beverage. "A Cup of Coffee, or Coffee in its Colours," published in 1663 voiced this indignation:

"For men and Christians to turn Turks and think

To excuse the crime, because 'tis in their drink!

Pure English apes! ye might, for aught I know,

Would it but mode learn to eat spiders too."

But not all poets were detractors. Ben Johnson and other libation-loving poets saw it as a source of inspiration: "drank pure nectar as the Gods drink too."


Three years later a play was written called The Coffee House but was not a success and seen as insipid.

A pamphlet entitled: "The Character of a Coffee House," seven years later told "how people came to purchase at the expense of their last penny, the repute of sober companions, to receive news with his coffee. Where haberdashers meet, and mutually abuse each other and the public with bottomless stories and headless nnotions; the rendezvous of idle pamphlets and persons more idly employed to read them in a room that stinks of tobacco worse than hell of brimestone." Judges, lawyers and pickpockets alike drank the brew, which in one person's opinion was like something witches tipple out of dead men's skulls.
In 1674 the wives of England took up a "Women's Petition against Coffee," because they thought it made men unfruitful. It's use seemingly would produce offspring of their "mighty ancestors" to dwindle into a succession of apes and pigmies," and when a husband went out on a domestic errand he "would stop by the way to drink a couple of cups of coffee."

A proclamation for the suppression of coffee houses ensued, but was canceled almost before the ink had dried.

Not an auspicios beginning for coffee and one wonders how it became so popular!




The Rainbow of Fleet Street was the second coffee-house opened in London, and many more followed around Change Alley and the Royal Exchange, where the headquarters of Lloyd's began as one of the most remarkable coffee houses of the seventeenth Century. Lloyd's Coffee House, which had a pulpit from which one might orate to the gathered throng, played a notable part in the life of a nation, developing into the shipping exchange of the world, employing 1,500 agents in all parts of the globe.

Coffee houses took their colour from the district in which they were established. Cleriks favoured The Chapter at St Pauls, business men, poets and doctors gathered in others. But Baston's was the exception where businessmen clashed with poets. What did a mere business man know of poetry? Doctors too frequented Batson's coffee house. Sir Richard Blackmore, physician to William III and then Queen Anne was a constant visitor.

Thomas Garraway founded Garraway's Coffee House, which survived until 1866, the ground floor was furnished with cosy mahogany boxes and setas, and the floor covered in sand.

Two other houses, Jonathan's and Sam's were notorious for their connection with stock-jobbing. The latter figured prominently in the gigantic South Sea Bubble fraud.

Towards the end of the 18th century, coffeehouses had almost completely disappeared from the popular social scene in England. Historians offer a wide range of reasons for their decline. Ellis argues that coffeehouse patron's folly through business endeavours, the evolution of the club and the government's colonial policy acted as the main contributors to the decline of the English coffeehouse. Coffeehouse proprietors worked to gain monopoly over news culture and to establish a coffeehouse newspaper as the sole form of print news available. Met with incessant ridicule and criticism, the proposal discredited coffee-men's social standing. Ellis explains: "Ridicule and derision killed the coffee-men's proposal but it is significant that, from that date, their influence, status and authority began to wane.

The rise of the exclusive club such as White's and Boodles were gambling had become popular, also contributed to the decline in popularity of English coffeehouses."Snobbery reared its head, particularly amongst the intelligence, who felt that their special genius entitled them to protection from the common herd. Strangers were no longer welcome." For example, some coffeehouses began charging more than the customary penny to preserve frequent attendance of the higher standing clientele they served.

Literary and political clubs rose in popularity, as "the frivolities of coffee-drinking were lost in more serious discussion. The Blue-Stocking Club owed its popularity to Elizabeth Robinson, wife of Edward Monagu. After losing her only child, her mother and her brother, she turned her pursuits to literary breakfasts and then formed a club where literary discussions took place, wearing a petticoat embroidered with the ruins of Palmyra, with visits from Garrick or French actors. Card playing was not tolerated. Several new publications were penned, stitched in blue paper.

"With a new increased demand for tea, the government also had a hand in the decline of the English coffeehouse in the 18th century. The British East India Company, at the time, had a greater interest in the tea trade than the coffee trade, as competition for coffee had heightened internationally with the expansion of coffeehouses throughout the rest of Europe.

Research source: Inns and Taverns of Old London by Henry C. Shelley.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Tapestry Shop by Joyce Elson Moore

The Tapestry Shop, by Joyce Elson Moore, is an historical novel based on the life of Adam de la Halle, a poet/musician who left behind a vast collection of secular compositions, including one which some say is the basis of the legend of Robin Hood, and that may well be, but being of Yorkshire descent, I like to believe that Robin Hood is an Englishman, not a Fenchman!


In all seriousness, and aside from the intrigue about the Robin Hood fable, I liked this book for the story. The medieval setting leaps from the page as we follow Adam's journey and that of Catherine, the woman he loves.

The writing isn't flawless, and at times it was a little silted in places, however the story flows well and the research is apparent.

I did like how the author gave both Adam and Catherine their own point of views, so the reader has the chance to know both characters well.

Fictional biographies is a favourite genre of mine and I was glad to read another one by an unknown author to me.

I highly recommend Joyce Elson Moore's novel, The Tapestry Shop to those who enjoy historical fiction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More snippets from the Historical Novel Society Conference 2010

One of the best things about these sort of events is the opportunity to network with other writers and readers. During lunch the hubbub of conversation was almost deafening, and a few people escaped the noisy dining room for the bar, myself included. There I got chatting with some women from Yorkshire who are all at various stages with their historical works-in-progress and with a history teacher who is writing a novel set in the Civil War. We exchanged notes over our pizza, quiche and bread rolls, and heard a little about the ideas behind our work.

Sometimes you can end up a little drunk on other people's unwritten stories and enthusiasm.

In the afternoon we were treated to "A History of Violence" with panellists Harry Sidebottom, Doug Jackson, Robert Low and Ben Kane. There was general agreement amongst the panel that violence was a thrill that the adrenaline-junkie male sought through his reading in this somewhat sanitised society, and that combat and war are subjects that are somehow "sexy" at some visceral level.
Members of the panel were keen to point out the particular stresses of combat with its "to the death" theme can make for a very human story. It was these tales that the panel thought they were telling - the stories of one individual against the big canvas of armed conflict. The panel were asked whether women writers were equally able to do this, to conjure up the vast battlefields and set pieces of conflict, and several mentioned Robyn Young (author of The Brethren Trilogy and the new Insurrection.)


In times past, life was altogether more violent and this difference can alienate readers. Difficult areas that challenge readers are (unsurprisingly) rape scenes, and those featuring violence to animals. One of the panel said he had had complaints about a scene involving dismembering a dog although readers were happy to accept the same if the victim was human. In early cultures, particularly slave cultures, rape was endemic, for example in ancient Rome. Rape in any case was less about sexuality and more about status - i.e. it was acceptable in Rome if you were the rapist, but to be the victim was seen as dropping status. After hearing the all male panel dicuss this, it was a contrast to hear from the softly-spoken writer for young adults, Ann Turnbull.

Ann Turnbull writes historical fiction for young adults - a booming market which she says used to be almost invisible. Her books are set in the seventeenth century and focus on the Civil War, the Plague Years and the Great Fire of London. I have to say that to write of these subjects was probably a smart move as all these are on the standard history curriculum, although for younger children, and that her books seem to be doing very well despite somebody saying earlier in the day that the 17th century was difficult to sell. Ann's talk entertained us with a powerpoint presentation of maps of old London, engravings of a 17th century printers workshop, and forbidden Quaker meetings. Originally a writer of books for younger children Ann was delighted when her publisher suggested she should try writing historicals for Young Adults. Each book is 70-80000 words long, so each takes considerable research. But there is no doubt that there is a market there now for historical fiction for young adults where there wasn't one before.

The final presentation was from Jean Fullerton, whose immensely popular London based books are impeccably researched. "Ground your Fiction in Fact" was the title of the session, as Jean is a firm believer in doing your homework, and goes to great lengths to make sure everything is as accurate as possible. She told us to look beneath the surface of the usual view and unearth the lesser known facts, for example that there were many black Victorians in London, but these images (shown to us on Powerpoint) are not ones we would usually associate with Victorian London. She has the advantage of living in the place she writes about and has used her local contacts and the local studies archives to uncover exactly what was on the streets she writes of, so she can feature real pubs and shops. She even researched what grades of coal were on sale during the period she was describing.When challenged that such detailed research might be wasteful as it hardly features in the book, and time could be better spent writing, Jean took the view that if the writer knows the detail, then this will convey to the reader even if not in the most obvious way. And I have to say I agree - the confidence that comes from knowing your stuff helps the writing process and gives a flavour of veracity.

Jean finished by saying we will never be able to get it all right - there will always be something we miss and kick ourselves over once it has gone to the printer, but that is inevitable. The main thing is to feel assured you have done the research the best way you are able.

In the gaps between the sessions I was able to network with other writers, both published and unpublished, and have the "writerly" conversations I am so often starved of at home, so my thanks go to the organisers and to all the speakers. I look forward to next time!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snippets from The Historical Novel Society Conference 2010

The venue for this year's conference was the Mechanics Institute in Manchester, a solid edifice with an imposing stone staircase and walls full of prints and ephemera from the history of the Trades Unions.

Unfortunately I couldn't be in two places at once so I had to make choices about which speakers I would listen to. The first was Mary Sharratt - seated in amongst us at a round table around which we all squashed ourselves - she was a very popular speaker and rightly so. Her talk on "The Daughters of Witching Hill", her new novel, was exemplary. She gave us plenty of historical detail about the religious and social background to the book - how the Reformation changed attitudes to Catholicism, how the 17th century beliefs in spirits and the power of the cunning woman were repressed during the rise of Puritanism.

Her extracts were well-chosen, and we all got to hear her read a little of the voices of the characters, during which you could hear a pin drop. She had photocopied some chapbooks and documents of the time which she referred to, and these added a note of veracity to what was a very well-planned and interesting session. And "The Daughters of Witching Hill" sounds like a great read.


Robert Low was next, talking about Reportage, Re-enactment and Fiction. A very imposing-looking man with a plaited beard, he looks as his readers might hope he would. His lively talk ranged across his experiences as a war reporter and re-enacter. As he pointed out, historical fiction is a genre with no awards, no specific shelf in a bookshop.

And for myself, probably my affinity with Viking, Roman or other so-called Sword and Sandals fiction is about the same as my affinity with Crime or Chick-Lit - i.e they are novels, but that's about as far as it goes. One end of the genre can feel miles away from another, separated by aeons in both time and writing style. So it always feels a little odd for us all to be lumped together in one genre.

But as a novelist Robert had some great things to say about the writer remaining invisible, listed with great good humour. My favourites were "Never open with the weather - the reader is looking for people","Try to leave out the parts readers skip", "If it sounds like writing, re-write it."
He said whatever the accuracy of our research in the end our "only obligation is to be persuasive," and I have to say this seemed a very good argument.


The Panel Discussion, "Where next for Historical Fiction?" chaired by Doug Jackson with Jim Gill (United Agents) Marcy Posner (Folio Literary Management) began by looking back to see where the current revival in interest in HF has come from, and traced it back to the rise of interest in historical non-fiction, particularly Simon Schama's History of Britain, and books such as "Longitude" - non-fiction narratives which then paved the way for fiction. Readers like the "added value" of entertainment plus education that some HF provides. However, we need to be wary that we don't become so concerned with being accurate that we forget to write a novel! Story is key.

The conversation ranged over the power of the cover (8 seconds to make your choice in Tesco) to the fact that contrary to most writers' opinions, interest in the Tudors shows no sign of waning. On the contrary, readers like to read books where they already have a smattering of knowledge. Periods the reader has scant knowledge of will fail to sell. The English Civil War, although it has a lot going for it in terms of dramaic action, is apparently a difficult period as readers do not understand the complex causes of the conflict and therefore have no "in" on the subject. (Shame, as that is my period!)

Marcy Posner said there was absolutely no market for WWII novels in the States.

She also said that since the rise of ebooks and self-publishing it was interesting that no less than five new independent bookshops have opened in New York, indicating that the public are wanting a more informed choice and a personal service. Good news for all of us whose books are somewhere in the mid-list.

Both Jim and Marcy agreed that the job of the novelist includes being "out and about", although there is no hard evidence to show (certainly in the States ) that readings and tours work to sell more books. Generally, facebook, tweeting, blogs etc do not necessarily increase your profile as there is so much "information static" drowning out the potential to connect with readers. This was contested by some members who thought that they had successfully used these media to sell their own books.

In the afternoon I listened to a Panel Discussion on "A History of Violence" and Ann Turnbull talking about "Love and Conflict in the 17th century." This was followed by Jean Fullerton's presentation "Ground your fiction in Fact." I also had a very entertaining lunch, and a discussion with two other writers about the benefits of the Kindle. More about these and the afternoon slot, in my next post.
You can also find this post on my own blog, but Anne suggested I should post it here too, and she's right - it probably is of more general interest.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Say what?

As we all know, historical authors agonize over the details.
 
We spend countless hours researching details for each book even though it sometimes feels like we’re the only ones who will care. For instance, questions that pop up on loops and forums have ranged from what’s the most common breed of sheep in 15th century Scotland to who was the most expensive tailor in Regency London. Both of which are small details that could be easily written around.
 
In trying to make my books as authentic as possible, I’ve learned how to make beer, medieval-style, counted the steps between a dozen cathedrals and castles, and peered inside too many garderobes to count get a sense of how they worked and figure out if someone could actually crawl up one to storm a castle.
 
But what other authors and I often agonize over—and what no amount of research will ever really give us—is the language our characters actually used.
 
During the 12th century, the time period I write, The Scottish/English borders were home to people descended from Saxon, Viking, Celts, and Normans (Vikings Round 2). Local dialects and accents were common (the traces of which can still be heard today) and few people outside the nobility traveled far from their place of birth. So it’s possible that someone from Carlisle had trouble understanding someone from Tyneside.
 
Fast-forward 800 years and we’re mostly reduced to gestures.
 
For instance, William of Ravenglas, the 12th century hero of ENTHRALLED didn’t inhale; he sucked in air. A century later he might have inbreathed. Just for the record, he could exhale in the 16th century, but wouldn’t inhale for nearly two hundred more years.
 
And as with any good hero, William definitely cysses Amilia, the heroine, but several hundred years will pass before he actually kisses her. And though he’s English, he won’t be snogging anyone until the 1950s. Of course, he could wreche havoc, upbrixle someone who was rude to a lady and still get off Skot-free if he became brath when the apology was slow to come.
 
I could go on, but you get the gist (my hero wouldn’t).
 
So as I sifted through revisions on Enthralled, which comes out today, I ended up having William inhale his breath and kiss his lady. When having to choose between the right word and the recognizable word, I picked the familiar one (as long as it wasn't jarringly modern). I want my readers to enjoy the story, not reach for the dictionary.
 
How about you? As a writer of historical novels, how do you solve the dilemma of readability vs. accuracy?
 
 
Keena Kincaid writes 12th century romances with paranormal elements. If transported back in time, according to the OED and the OED Historical Thesaurus, she would be little in the 12th century, but Henry VIII’s courtiers would have called her untall.
 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blackbeard Lives Again



It’s a beautiful day at sea. The sun is warm, the breeze whipping through the canvas sails. You hear the spotter’s cry and look over your shoulder. Fear slams you in the gut like a cannonball: You and your crew are being followed, and the menacing phantom behind you is flying no quarter.

This is no imaginary story. Over two hundred years ago, a two hundred ton wooden ship called The Queen Anne’s Revenge did just that. And her captain was the elusive Edward Teach. Pirates roamed the Caribbean and eastern seaboard of America during the Golden Age of Piracy, and the most famous of them all, Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, has returned.



In 1996 Governor James Hunt of North Carolina announced that Blackbeard’s flagship had been discovered. A research firm searching Beaufort’s Inlet off the coast of North Carolina came across the heavily armed remains of a frigate in the presumed location of The Queen Anne. State underwater archeologists were called out and more than a decade later, the booty from Blackbeard’s most notorious prize has risen from the murky depths.

The Queen Anne was originally a French slave ship known as La Concorde. Easily captured by Blackbeard and his wily sloops off the coast of Martinique in 1717, the re-christened frigate became the flagship for the swelling party of pirates. They spent several months pillaging the Caribbean before turning toward the Carolinas. There, Blackbeard attempted to lay siege to the city of Charleston, and after a rather successful week, accepted a medicine chest in exchange for his prisoners.

Weeks later, around the 10th of June, 1818, The Queen Anne’s Revenge and her party ran aground attempting to enter Beaufort’s Inlet. Blackbeard and his crew had plenty of time to remove their valuables, and he escaped with a few of his faithful crew to Ocracoke Island along the outer banks. As The Queen Anne settled into her watery grave, her captain escaped death for almost six more months. Robert Maynard, a Royal Navy lieutenant, tracked him down, and the officer and pirate dueled to the death aboard the naval sloop, Jane. Blackbeard was beheaded, and his head hung from the Jane’s bowsprit in celebration. A fitting end to a fearless and troublesome buccaneer.

So what has The Queen Anne revealed? State archeologists working with the North Carolina Maritime Museum have spend the last ten years carefully dredging, sifting, cleaning and cataloguing artifacts. Because of the wreck’s location, it is agreed that it will eventually disappear due to storms and currents, thus the careful resurfacing of the precious cargo. The list is impressive. Items range from glass bottles, pewter dinnerware, and parts of small firearms, to cannons, an anchor, and ballast. Clues such as syringes hint that the men were treating themselves, probably for syphilis, a common companion. Evidence of cattle, fish, and pig bones speak of a varied diet aboard ship at the time of her demise.



What is it about pirates that fill us with excitement? Tropical islands? Buried treasure? Even before Robert Louis Stevenson penned TREASURE ISAND in 1883, man has always dreamed of adventure at sea. Disney’s 2003 film, “Pirates of the Caribbean” renewed public interest and affection for those scallywags, but the truth is, some of them were very dangerous men.

It’s believed that Blackbeard was a part of the Queen Anne’s War (1701) where he served as a privateer. This evidence shows that not all pirates started out as criminals. Many were drafted into the lifestyle by the point of the sword, having no choice when their ships were captured. It was these men, and those small boys, that often paid for piracy with their lives.

You can find out more about The Queen Anne’s recovery at http://www.qaronline.org/default.htm.

You can view astounding footage documented by Nautilus Productions at http://www.nautilusproductions.com/new_site/QAR_footage.html.

After that, dive into a good book such as my pirate ship treasure hunt, BY HEART AND COMPASS, available at Desert Breeze Publishing and other online bookstores. You may just find the kind of pirate you’ve been looking for.







Danielle Thorne


Visit Danielle at www.daniellethorne.jimdo.com

Follow Danielle's blog at www.thebalancedwriter.blogspot.com

Subscribe to THE PRIVATEER NEWSLETTER. A monthly missive with news, reviews, recipes, and reader feedback.


Danielle Thorne is the author of THE PRIVATEER, a 1729 historical about British privateering in the Caribbean and TURTLE SOUP, a sweet contemporary romance set between Atlanta and St. Thomas. Her shipwreck adventure, BY HEART AND COMPASS, is available now. Her first Jane Austen-inspired Regency, JOSETTE, has been contracted by Whimsical Publications for Winter 2010.

Danielle currently writes from south of Atlanta, Georgia. She was the 2009-2010 Co-Chair for the New Voices Competition for young writers, is active with online author groups such as Classic Romance Revival and EPIC, and moderates for The Sweetest Romance Authors at the Coffee Time Romance boards. Danielle reviews for online review sites and edits for two publishing houses and Romance Junkies. She lives with four sons and her husband, who is an air traffic controller. Together they enjoy travel and the outdoors, Marching Band competition, and BSA Scouting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The world's oldest sport?

Last week on the Hearts through History RWA loop, a casual reference to the 1900 Olympics in Paris noted that tug-of-war was part of the competition.
1908 U.S. tug-of-war team

Talk about intriguing.

I had no idea that tug-of-war was once an Olympic sport. To be honest, I assumed it wasn't played anywhere but on playgrounds, college campuses and family picnic areas.

Curious about this bygone sport, I spent a few days researching tug-of-war, and its gold medal history, spending a lot of time on the official websites of the Olympic movement and the site of the Tug-of-War International Federation.

Yep, there's an international federation.

For those who might not know (I know you know, but my journalistic training demands I explain the sport) tug-of-war is played when opposing teams, somewhat equal in number and weight, grab hold of either end of a rope suspended over a hazard of some sort, i.e. water or mud (history suggests Vikings played tug-of-war over the campfire). At a signal, both teams tug on the rope, trying to pull the other team into the hazard.

A few facts about the 1900 Olympics:
  • Events were held in Paris as part of the 1900 World’s Fair and were so under-promoted that not all 997 athletes realized they were taking part in Olympic competitions. Overall, only 375 tickets were sold.
  • Organizers didn't hold an opening ceremony. Events began May 14 and ended Oct. 28.
  • Women competed for the first time in these games. The first women's competition? Croquet.
  • Mixed teams (not gender but nationality) completed in five sports, including tennis and tug-of-war.
  • Tug-of-war made its debut as an Olympic competition. Other sports:
    • Archery
    • Artistic gymnastics (which included pole vaulting)
    • Athletics: combined, field, road (cross-country) and track
    • Basque Pelota (think team racquet ball played across a net and you’ve got the general idea)
    • Cricket
    • Coquet
    • Cycling
    • Equestrian, jumping
    • Fencing
    • Football (soccer)
    • Golf
    • Polo
    • Rowing
    • Rugby
    • Sailing
    • Shooting
    • Swimming
    • Tennis
    • Tug-of-War
    • Water Polo
Only two teams competed in the tug-of-war competition on May 14. Winner was the best of three, and a Danish/Swiss team competed against a French team and won 2-0. This was Sweden’s first gold medal.

During the 2004 Olympics in Saint Louis, six teams competed, four from the host nation. U.S. teams won all three medals. At the time, clubs fielded tug-of-war teams, so there wasn’t a national team from any country. In the 1908 London games, British teams won the gold, silver and bronze. According to the BBC, the final match was between two English teams comprised of policemen, with the London police team beating Liverpool's police team.

Tug-of-War was dropped from the Olympic games after 1920. But the Olympics were hardly the beginning or the end of the sport, which dates back thousands of years. Egyptians played tug-of-war, as did the ancient Greeks, the Vikings and other sea-faring nations. It's still a popular sport in India, Europe and South Africa where the 2010 Tug-of-War Championships were held in Pretoria.

Coming up: the International Tug-of-War conference is scheduled for January 2011 in Taipei. If that’s too far to travel, The European tug-of-war championship will be played in September 2011.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Call Me Duchess by Maggie Dove




Hi Everyone,

I just received the cover for my forthcoming novel, Call Me Duchess. I wanted to share it with you and tell you a little bit about my book:

Grippingly suspenseful and romantic, CALL ME DUCHESS, is a stunning, young woman’s journey to find love in 1870 London while a dashingly handsome chaperone, a heinous villain, and her own lofty aspirations stand in her way. Left penniless by their father, Marguerite Wiggins and her sisters must find husbands during the London season or work as governesses by season’s end.
Determined to become the next Duchess of Wallingford, Marguerite is a woman in love who must make the difficult decision between following her heart or attaining her lifetime dreams and ambitions as a depraved rapist seeks to make her his next victim.

Historical Romance/Romantic Suspense, CALL ME DUCHESS is the second novel of the Windword Trilogy.
To be released by Eternal Press - January, 2011

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Guest Sharon Lathan-- Regency: What’s Not To Like?

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Sharon Lathan and her latest book, In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, which continues the saga of the lives of the well-loved Pride and Prejudice characters. Sharon talks about why she loves the Regency, but also why we should take Regency etiquette with a grain of salt.

Leave a comment and your email for a chance to win one of the two copies of In the Arms of Mr. Darcy which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Sharon will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

Sharon selected the winners Maggie Dove and Meg Evenstar. Maggie, I've sent you an email. Meg, please contact me at linda@lindabanche.com to collect your prize. If I do not hear from you by October 24, I will award the books to alternates.

Welcome, Sharon!

Thanks for inviting me as a guest! This is a tremendous honor to be here today!

I was asked what I like best about the Regency and what I like the least. Hmm….

Not so easy to answer. There are many aspects to this roughly 10-year period of time spanning the end of the larger Georgian Era and the Edwardian to Victorian Eras that came next that are appealing to me as a writer and lover of history. This was a trend setting time, revolutionary in many respects, and the radical changes affected those later decades profoundly. Certainly the clothing comes to mind since I think it the most appealing out of the past centuries. I adore the romantic renaissance attitude of the Prince Regent and his contemporaries as shown in the elegance and beauty of the architecture, art, poetry, and music. I could write several essays on the neoclassical styles of the era that are incredibly pleasing to the eye and provide a perfect backdrop to writing romance.

For my story I can’t deny that the staggering number of modern technologies feeds my mind. I am fascinated by the discoveries in every field of science that began during this period falling in the early years of the Industrial Revolution. I use what I unearth frequently within my saga.

Yet, if I have to pick one thing I like the best I suppose I would say it is the “old fashioned” tone that I love. I yearn for the days of politeness when people truly cared about another person’s sensibilities. Manners, decorum, and etiquette were taken seriously. A lady was a lady and a gentleman a gentleman. There were rules and standards that decent people made every attempt to follow. Modesty, careful speech, protocol, decency, and social obligation were prized. Being honorable was held dear and to be accused otherwise was a shameful happening. There were real scandals! Improper activity was looked down upon and one who acted immorally or outside the bounds of propriety often suffered serious consequences.

Yes, call me old fashioned, but I wish we had more of that in our world these days.

Oddly, to answer the second question, what I like the least about the Regency is this same strictness! Partly I admit that this is my modern attitude showing through. I love Pride and Prejudice, but I sure want to reach into the text and rattle those two stubborn idiots for not simply talking about it!! Life would have been way easier if they had thrown out the rulebook and actually been forthcoming for once. Of course that would have made for a short novel, but you get my point.

So here is the rub: Should we base our assumptions on what is written in a novel? Or what we read in the etiquette books of the day? I once read an essay where it was pointed out that etiquette books are usually written to point out how things should be done because they probably aren’t being done that way! Interesting point, I thought. I can’t speak for the veracity of 1811’s The Mirror of Graces but I know if someone plopped an Emily Post on my lap I would be mortified to discover all the ways I am failing!

However, these high standards are taken as gospel truth without keeping in mind several facts. One, none of us lived way back when so we can’t really know if the majority lived as perfectly as many of us like to imagine they did. Two, humans have always been human with every single frailty and evil thought we have today so it is highly unlikely they followed the rules any better than we do. Three, honest history proves that underneath the glamorous Regency there was squalor, crime, and poverty on a massive level while within the upper classes extravagance, frivolity, and superficiality often ruled.

In conclusion, I adore the formality and properness of these bygone days and I do think it was a standard characteristic adhered to by most, even if falsely, far more than we see today. I love writing with that in mind! But I also love writing about real people who respond in real ways. Gritty, honest, human characters who cry, rage, show passion, laugh, swear, and even sin a bit now and again. Don’t ever tell me a person would “never” do such-and-such unless you can prove they can’t do it today!



IN THE ARMS OF MR. DARCY BY SHARON LATHAN—IN STORES OCTOBER 2010
If only everyone could be as happy as they are…
Darcy and Elizabeth are as much in love as ever—even more so as their relationship matures. Their passion inspires everyone around them, and as winter turns to spring, romance blossoms around them.

Confirmed bachelor Richard Fitzwilliam sets his sights on a seemingly unattainable, beautiful widow; Georgiana Darcy learns to flirt outrageously; the very flighty Kitty Bennet develops her first crush, and Caroline Bingley meets her match.

But the path of true love never does run smooth, and Elizabeth and Darcy are kept busy navigating their friends and loved ones through the inevitable separations, misunderstandings, misgivings, and lovers’ quarrels to reach their own happily ever afters…

About the Author
Sharon Lathan is the author of the bestselling Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, Loving Mr. Darcy: Journeys Beyond Pemberley, and My Dearest Mr. Darcy. In addition to her writing, she works as a Registered Nurse in a Neonatal ICU. She resides with her family in Hanford, California in the sunny San Joaquin Valley. For more information, please visit www.sharonlathan.net. You can also find Sharon at Austen Authors – www.austenauthors.com, and Casablanca Authors – www.casablancaauthors.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guest Author - Christina Courtenay

A very big welcome to historical author Christina Courtenay to the H B&B's blog.

Christina is half English/half Swedish, but grew up mostly in Sweden. She is married with two grown-up daughters and currently she divides her time between London and Herefordshire.
She is also a committee member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, responsible for the Love Story of the Year Award.
For more information, please visit http://www.christinacourtenay.com/


Cristina has kindly posted a blog about her new book, Trade Winds, which also carries on the theme of our previous blog post by Freda Lightfoot about the staus of women in different eras.

Status of Women in 18th century Sweden by Christina Courtenay.

I was reading your recent blog posts and noticed that quite a few were about the status of women through the ages and the fact they had hardly any rights in the eyes of the law unless they were widows. This seemed very apt, since the heroine in my novel Trade Winds, Jessamijn van Sandt, is in exactly that situation. Being an only child, her father had trained her to take over the running of his merchant business and therefore educated her beyond what was normal for a girl in 18th century Sweden. However, when he dies, Jess finds that her mother has inherited everything and when the mother remarries, the company goes to her new husband, Jess’ father’s former business partner. She smells a rat, but there is absolutely nothing she can do about the situation unless she can prove the will false or that her step-father has cheated her.

When researching this novel, I too was intrigued to find just how little power a woman had over her life. I tried to come up with ways that Jess could redress the situation, but short of finding written proof that the business should have gone to her, she was powerless. She obviously needed help from a man, but her step-father thwarts her efforts to find a husband by scaring away any suitors, telling them she has no dowry even though she does. Her only recourse is to marry someone in secret, but even that could backfire, as I found out. If a girl married without consent from her parent or guardian, the marriage was legal, but the parent/guardian had the right to withhold her dowry and cut all ties with her.

Luckily for Jess, her new husband is resourceful, and all ends well, but in real life the scenario could have been very different. Although I’ve always loved history and often wish I lived in the past, the thought of being so helpless makes me feel grateful for our modern laws. We have a lot to thank the suffragettes for, that’s for sure!

Trade Winds is the story of handsome Scotsman Killian Kinross, who goes to Sweden in the hope of making his fortune. There he meets strong-willed Jess van Sandt, a merchant’s daughter who believes she’s being swindled out of her inheritance by her step-father. They join forces for mutual benefit and enter into a marriage of convenience, but then Killian is offered the chance of a lifetime with the Swedish East India Company. He sets sail for China, but the journey doesn’t turn out quite as he expected ...

Trade Winds, published by Choc Lit, (ISBN no. 978-1-906931-23-0) and is out now. (http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/ )

Thank you for visiting the Historical Belles & Beaus Blog, Christina.