Thursday, September 30, 2010

Status of women in sixteenth century France

‘Frenchwomen,’ said a critic, ‘are very devout in seeming, but in point of fact they are very light and very free. Every one of them, even if she be a courtesan, wishes to be treated as an honest woman, and there is no lady of bad fame who has not some objection to make to the morals of her neighbour. Their manners and talk are most agreeable, but one fault they have and that is avarice.’

Nuns, apparently, were worse. But then many were quite secular in their habits, certainly Henry IV of France enjoyed affaires with several, including Marie de Beauvilliers, abbess of Montmartre, and possibly several others. He did like to spread his favours.

Women often chose to enter a nunnery, considering this a better option than marrying a man they didn’t care for. And who could blame them since most marriages, and even being chosen as someone’s mistress, was often outside a woman’s control. Others were incarcerated in a religious house by a husband with an eye to finding a new wife, a danger which threatened Queen Margot in my new novel The Reluctant Queen, out today. This is the sequel to Hostage Queen and continues the story of Margot, as well as following the adventures of her husband’s mistresses, mainly Gabrielle.

Gabrielle d’Estrées’ one wish is to marry for love, but her mother sells her as a mistress to three different men before she catches the eye – and the heart – of Henry of Navarre, King of France. Henry promises to marry her, but Gabrielle’s difficulties have just begun . . . for Henry’s wife will only divorce him if he promises not to marry Gabrielle. Is the love of a king enough to secure her both the happiness and respectability she craves and a crown for their son as the next dauphin of France?

What struck me most about Renaissance women when doing my research was how independent and well educated many of them were. Margot was proficient in French, Italian, Latin, Greek, music and mathematics as well as her devotions. But it wasn’t only royalty and the aristocracy who believed in education. The bourgeoisie were also great advocates of such refinements. It was considered that an educated woman was better able to maintain her family’s health, raise her children well, make her husband content and keep a household in order. The reformation also encouraged education for girls so that they were able to read the scriptures for themselves and be spiritually closer to God.

Daughters were, however, kept very much on a tight rein. They were expected to walk behind their mothers, and were rigorously attended and chaperoned at all times. When travelling they were expected to ride en croupe behind a servant, observing the proprieties by clinging only to the pommel and not by putting their arms about the servant’s waist. Clearly that would have been beyond the pale. Nor were young ladies allowed to drink, although their mothers might be allowed to add a splash of Burgundy to give their water a little colour and flavour.

‘But their deportment,’ said an observer, ‘conveyed rather their good taste than their truth.’

So, a passion for women’s rights simmered beneath the surface did it? How wonderful! Men grumbled, of course at women’s independence, just as they do now. Nothing changes! They complained that their wives talked too much, stopping to gossip with passers-by in the street. They objected about their readiness to go alone to church or market, often being out and about for hours at a time, and ‘their husbands never daring to ask where they were.’

Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affaires.  Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses, and sired countless children with 11 of them, and probably many more we don’t even know of. He is said to have provided for them well and been a loving father. Nevertheless, he had great difficulty winning Gabrielle, and was greatly jealous of every man who looked her way. But with such a beauty who can blame him?

The proprieties and ritual of marriage began with ‘les accords’ when the happy couple joined hands in the presence of their parents. Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.

One amusing rule I found for widows, was that they were obliged to wear a high necked dress, long cloak and a veil, and in Italy the authorities felt obliged to pass a law restricting their style as widows’ veils had become ‘dangerously attractive.’ You can’t keep a bad girl down.

Monday, September 27, 2010


The Royal Pavilion was considered an architectural white elephant and partly responsible for the Regent's huge debts. The Regent's passion for Brighton began in 1783, when he was twenty-one. Suffering swollen glands in his neck, he was told to try sea-bathing. The bracing air of Brighton was considered a wonderful restorative. Prinnie decided he must have a house there and purchased a farm house before employing architects, decorators and furnishers.
The Pavilion was not finished until 1819. An elegant, Classical structure was first completed in 1787, by Henry Holland. Between 1801 and 1803, additions and alterations were made by P.G. Robinson, adding two picturesque oval-shaped wings, together with green shell-like canopies above all the windows, a feature wildly copied by the Regency. His Royal Highness brought back the chinoiserie style, which had been flagging, after being given some Chinese wallpaper. The Chinese style continued with an illuminated passage of painted glass, decorated with flowers, insects, and fruits.

In 1808 the Royal Stables and Riding House were completed sporting an eighty-foot cupola, with accommodation for forty-four horses. The exteriors were of the Moselm Indian style. In 1815 John Nash began his alterations in the Indian style. In 1816 the kitchens were completed entirely steam-heated. In 1820 an underground passage from the house to the Stables was constructed. Gossip suggested it was for the use of secret amorous frolics, which slandered and flattered the fat, ageing George IV who merely wished his guests to pat horses on a wet day.
The Pavilion at Brighton has come in for heavy criticism, the most notable of which is Hazlitt in his Travel Notes: "The Pavilion at Brighton is like a collection of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes. It seems as if the genius of architecture had at once the dropsy and the megrims...the King's horses would petition against such irrational a lodging."

Source: J. B. Priestley THE PRINCE OF PLEASURE and his Regency

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dressing a Dandy

Posted by Jen Black
One of the little known facts of Beau Brummell’s residence in Chesterfield Street was that it had limited wine-cellar space but an unexpectedly large coal-cellar. This housed the sea-coal that fed the fires that allowed Brummell’s addiction to bathing. He bathed in hot water, and this was considered as remarkable as the fact that he bathed every day.

Captain Jesse and Harriette Wilson report his words: ‘No perfumes, but very fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.’ City-dried washing, with all the attendant soot spots, would not do; therefore gentlemen’s shirts and unmentionables strewed the washing lines of Islington.

According to Brummell, if the clothes were clean, so should the body beneath them be. The musk and old perfumes worn by the previous generation to hide their lack of personal hygiene were banished along with wigs and lace.

Brummell kept the door of his bedroom ajar so he could converse with friends as he washed, shaved and dressed, even though some of the time he was naked. He exfoliated his body with a coarse-hair brush, and shaved himself with a series of miniature cut-throat razors and then plucked out stray hairs with tweezers. A modern barber suggests the reason for the high neckcloth pioneered by Brummell may well have been to hide razor rash.

Dressing the upper body began a plain, lightly starched white shirt with a collar so large that it enveloped the wearer’s entire head before being folded down. Neck and cuffs fastened with tiny Dorset buttons, and the collar was folded once to the level of the ears. Then a triangle of fine Irish muslin, folded twice over at the widest point, was wrapped around the neck.
Brummell stood before the mirror with his chin in the air and then tied the particular knot of the day and lowered his chin slowly to achieve the desired rucks in the starched material. Once pressed into place and rubbed with an older shirt, the pleats would last for the day.

If all did not go well, the cloths and even the shirt were ripped off and the whole business begun again. Out went the cost of lace and spangles and in came adherence to perfection of line, which demonstrated a gentleman’s wealth and style in a different way.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nicholas & Alexandra Romanov

Nicholas & Alexandra Romanov
by Stephanie Burkhart

Aside from Peter and Catherine the Great, no other story about the Romanovs is as heartbreaking and poignant as the last Romanov monarchs – Nicholas and Alexandra.

What makes their story so moving? Is it because Nicholas and Alexandra were a love match? They had four beautiful daughters who died a painful death? All that and more.

Alexandra was born 6 June 1868, an "eerie" date for me, personally, because it is 100 years later to the date that I was born. Her mother was Alice of Hesse, and a daughter of Queen Victoria.

Something had happened when Queen Victoria was born. Most scientists believe it was a genetic mutation. She was a carrier for hemophilia.

Hemophilia is a bleeding dysfunction. The person's blood lacks a certain enzyme that allows it to clot. Basically, without treatment a person with hemophilia bleeds to death. Females are generally carriers and males generally suffer from it. And it all boils down to X and Y.

How did this dysfunction affect Alexandra? She was a carrier. Her mother was a carrier, and Queen Victoria, her grandmother, was a carrier. However, this didn't make itself known to Alexandra until 1905. (When her son was born.)

As a young girl, Alexandra dealt with a lot of tragedy. Her mother died. Her hemophilic brother died. She did her best to get through the sadness. Her religion, Protestantism, helped her though. Then, as a teenager, she met "Nicky."

Nicky was Nicholas Romanov, the eldest son of Russian Czar, Alexander III. Nicky was a nice, pleasant, young man who charmed Alexandra down to her toes. At their first meeting in 1884, Nicky gave her a brooch as a keepsake. The gesture won her impressionable heart.

Nicky was a nice guy, but he wasn't leadership material, not like his father, Alexander III, who ruled the Russian nation with an iron hand. Alexander III knew NIcky wasn't up to the task of being a monarch. He gave him a basic education and sent him on a world tour. (Alexander's fault is that he should have paid more attention to his son's education.) He even arranged for Nicky to have a beautiful mistress in the hopes it would take his mind off of Alexandra.

Nicky enjoyed the fling, but his heart was set on Alexandra. Now adults and in love, Nicky wanted to wanted to marry Alexandra. The hold up? Religion.

Nicky was Orthodox and Alexandra liked her religion. She did not want to convert and the wife of the future Czar had to be the same religion as him.

Nicky gave Alexandra time to think on it. After mulling it over, Alexandra agreed to change her religion.
Then Alexander III died.

His death was unexpected. It was decided Nicky and Alexandra would marry shortly after Nicky took the throne after his father's death. The bride wore black.

(I don't really know if she did, but there's a good chance she did because the royal court was still in morning for Alexander III.)

Nicholas II was a weak and ineffective monarch. On his coronation, peasants trampled themselves to death. He lost the Russo-Japanese war and had to submit to a Duma – an insult for a supreme autocrat. He had four healthy daughters, none who could take the throne due to Russia having adopted Salic law. His only son and heir, born in 1905, Alexi, suffered from hemophilia. He'd never be healthy enough to take the throne.

Then there was Rasputin. A gifted, yet debaucherous monk whose reputation stained the Imperial family's – yet Rasputin was the only one who could stop the bleeding and heal Alexi when he had a bout of hemophilia.
A month before he died, Rasputin sent Nicky a letter. It said he knew his death was near. If he died at the hands of the Romanov family, Nicky and his family would die within a year. If his death was not at the hands of Nicky's relatives, his family would stay on the throne for another 100 years.

Rasputin's killers were Romanov. Nicky was forced to abdicate and within a year, his family was assassinated by Bolsheviks in July 1918.

To end, the nice, but weak Nicky died loving Alexandra and she, loving him.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Villian Around Every Corner

And thank goodness for that! At least in writing. In romance you need someone or something to upset an otherwise perfect relationship. Okay, in romance the hero or heroine themselves can cause those problems that bring about their dark moment. I guess that would equate with our own dark sides or moments coming into play. We humans do have a knack now and again for self-sabotage. You can’t really have a mystery or a true suspense without a bad guy to undertake some positively evil deed. So if you aren’t writing true crime or non-fictions, where do you find your villains?

A few years ago I went to a book signing for Harley Jane Kozak. She not only writes a good mystery/suspense, she has a fabulous sense of humor in person. One of the audience members asked her about her villains and she did admit that many, if not all of them, had characteristics of people who had done her wrong. Someone asked how that played out in real life and she admitted that most nasty people didn't see themselves as the bad guys in books. They either think they are too smart that no one will know what rotten things they’ve done or just don’t get it that the way they are portrayed in a book is how they appear.

Now don’t go thinking that every misdeed you have ever done has been observed by an author and we’re all going to write about what a mean person you can be. Each antagonist has their own unique characteristics. They can exhibit our worst fears or re-enact something particularly disturbing we witnesses or can be a slice of what we ourselves would love to do to someone who done us wrong. One of the joys of writing fiction is you can have the ending you really want. You can create your own happy ending and not just in a romantic way.

So where do we find our bad guys. Those dark creatures sheathed in the guise of human beings who bring such gloom, doom and heartache to our characters? How do we pick the particular characteristics we include in developing our offenders in the hopes of making them memorably nefarious? How do we take a particular icky part of our lives and transform an otherwise bad experience into at least a palatable one if not a feeling of justice?

As I recently told a co-worker who thought I had the most amazing imagination, we all have life experiences. Even sitting home by ourselves, not even turning on the TV or radio or picking up some reading material, we experience life. When we go out into the world, even the most mundane of jobs, we have experiences. Some are happy, some sad, some thrilling, some devastating and some down right nasty. They’re all part of the human experience. It’s what you do with those experiences that can take it from the mundane to the dramatic and from just an event to a good read.

For instance, not long ago I was sitting on the bus going to work. It was an otherwise normal day. Got on the bus at 6:48, sat in the seat next to one of my commute friends, we changed buses at the bridge and then chatted a bit on the final leg to work. We sat at a stop light a moment and one of the other passengers said “that’s a big gun.” In an instant we all turned to look out the window as one San Francisco police officer readied the shotgun and five or six others approached a car pulled off to the side with their guns drawn. As we rushed to the windows it occurred to me that what we should be doing was ducking down on the otherwise of the bus because if the officers had their guns out chances are the suspect was armed and if he panicked, shots could be fired. Not dramatic thinking; reality thinking. We pulled away and that was that.

Or was it? As I got into work I was still experiencing the visceral reactions to that two, maybe three minute incident in the street. I told a co-worker about it and the same physical responses I felt on the bus played out. As soon as I could I wrote out those emotions, what I saw, what I felt, what I heard on the bus and in my mind, a story began to unfold. Who was in that car, what had they done? Was a co-conspirator on that bus? What did he do to put himself in that situation?

To flesh him out I only needed to wait a couple of hours for something to happen at work and being peeved at someone a number of my villain’s characteristics emerged. All it takes is a word, a gesture, an expression and your own reaction and you’ve got a scene…for a book. Writing a painful demise is definitely a more appropriate way to deal with an annoying person than giving into your personal desire to punch them, roundly curse the out or run screaming from the office. And by making them the bad guy in your latest story, you get to have the ending you much prefer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gorgeous Men in Tight Breeches and Ruffled Shirts II

What's Wrong With This Picture/Excerpt?

In Part I, we discussed Regency men's clothes. Although the era saw the birth of modern menswear, Regency clothing is not exactly the same. Errors abound in many romances. In this post we'll discuss three common errors in the portrayal of the Regency gentleman’s wardrobe.

What's wrong with Gorgeous Gentleman #1's clothes? The problem is his shirt. Men's shirts didn't button all the way down the front until the end of the nineteenth century. The front was open to about halfway down the chest, much like a present-day man's polo shirt. There may or may not have been one or two buttons to keep the collar closed. And a gentleman always wore a cravat to keep his shirt top closed.

The only way GG#1 could show off that great set of washboard abs in a historically correct shirt was to pull the shirt over his head. Or, the heroine could tear it off him in a fit of passion--the modern version of the bodice ripper.

The shirt GG #2 is wearing is correct. But what's wrong here? His shirt is correct, and our hero even has ruffles at his cuffs (oh, I do like ruffles on a man!). The answer--GG #2 is wearing a belt. Regency men held up their breeches (generic term for what they wore on their lower bodies) with braces, also called suspenders.

My third example is a passage from Miss Lockharte's Letters by Barbara Metzger:

"And I saw you trying to corner her in the choir loft. If you ever managed to keep your pants buttoned, we wouldn't be in half this mess."

The error here? The word "pants" is an Americanism, first found in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, around 1840, according to An Englishman would refer to the garment as "trousers". And if he were in the presence of a lady, he would call them his "unmentionables", if he referred to them at all.

I found lots of pictures of gorgeous gentlemen as I searched for images for this post. But I hit the jackpot with GG#2. Unlike some writers, I don't use a picture of an actor or model as inspiration for my hero. But when I saw GG#2, I knew I had found Richard, the hero of Lady of the Stars, my Regency time travel and 2010 EPIC EBook Competition Finalist.

GG#2's hair is a little too long, he's wearing that belt, and he would never appear before a lady without a cravat, waistcoat and coat (jacket). I like to think he's in his bedchamber, early the morning after he met Caroline, the heroine. He's thinking about her, and already falling in love.

And here's our Happily Ever After.

Thank you all,
Enter My World of Historical Hilarity

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I have new contract for my Georgian romance, THE RELUCTANT MARQUESS, with Embrace Books, and I thought I’d indulge in the beautiful interior design of the Georgian period.

Taking an interest in fashion and interiors was very much the order of the day in Georgian times. Entertaining was becoming more popular and print books containing designs and architectural models were available to the public for the first time. As the century progressed, the style became lighter and lighter in terms of colours and decoration and eventually became Regency style.

• Harmony and symmetry
• Early Georgian colour schemes include burgundy, sage green and blue grey but, as the style developed, they became lighter and included pea green, sky or Wedgwood blue, soft grey, dusky pink and a flat white or stone.
• Airiness, space and light
• Floors were bare floorboards covered with Oriental rugs. Grander houses had stone or marble floors in pale colours, perhaps with a keystone pattern.

Delicate furniture
   Robert Adam - architect and designer, influenced by the way the Italians decorated their buildings
• George Hepplewhite - furniture maker in the late Georgian period
• Thomas Chippendale - cabinet maker renowned during the middle Georgian period.

• Mouldings are intricate - ceilings might have ribbons and swags, classical figures and urns.

• Walls were still panelled but the panelling only reached dado height and the plaster above was either painted or papered.

• Soft furnishings were often glazed cotton fabrics with small sprigs of flowers. The same fabric on upholstery and curtains. Armchairs and divans often had loose covers made from cheap ticking or striped linen, which were removed for special occasions. Curtains sported pagoda style pelmets on top.

• Flock wallpaper is all the rage, as well as the moiré silks and chintz look.

Chinoiserie, is a French term, signifying "Chinese-esque". It refers to a recurring theme in European artistic styles since the seventeenth century, which reflect Chinese artistic influences. Fanciful and whimsical, it imitated Chinese porcelain and used lacquer-like materials and decoration.

Fireplaces would have been the focal point of a room. They had basket grates, cast iron backs and were decorated with fronts featuring swags, urns, and medallions, perhaps flanked with classical pillars. A firescreen was painted to match the room or featured a trompe l'oeil.

• Decorative objects were screens, fans, porcelain and lacquerwork from the Orient and bronze ornaments. Picures were hung in formal groupings, flanking the fireplace.

• The arrival of paraffin was a major break-through for Georgian lighting. Chandeliers were made from glass, metal and wood with curved arms like an octopus for a centrepiece. Fittings in pewter or tin were used in less grand homes.

• A Georgian front door had a filigree fanlight with a canopy and pediments and sash windows and shutters.

Influences on Georgian decoration

• Palladian style - especially Inigo Jones' s architecture

• the Grand Tour - it was highly fashionable for the upper classes to take a tour round Europe, particularly Italy, for two or three years

• the Orient

Historical Influences

• 1714 George I on the throne
• 1748 Pompeii discovered
• 1813 Pride and Prejudice written by Jane Austen
• 1837 Queen Victoria crowned

Examples can be found at:

• Bath - particularly The Royal Crescent
• The Geffrye Museum, London E2 - has rooms showing the development of Georgian style
• Sir John Soane's Museum, London WC2
• Syon House, Brentford, Middlesex - the Long Gallery designed by Robert Adam
• 28 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh - a whole square built by Robert Adam and purchased by The National Trust for Scotland.
• The Georgian House, 7 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

Further reading

• Georgian House Style by Ingrid Cranfield (David & Charles)
• The Georgian House Book by Steven Parissien (Aurum Press)
• The English Archive of Design and Decoration by Stafford Cliff (Thames & Hudson)

My sources:
Images from: Georgian House Style, Ingrid Cranfield

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pillars of the Earth: Take Two

After my disastrous, first five-minute viewing of Pillars of the Earth, I wasn’t sure if I would attempt a second viewing or not. But I did. I’m drawn to the Middle Ages like a passerby to a “do not touch” sign. 

After fast-forwarding through the burning of the White Ship to placate the history geek in me, I settled onto the couch with a bowl of chocolate-covered blueberries. For those of you without the Starz channel, Pillars of the Earth is an original miniseries based on Ken Follett’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of Prior Phillip fighting seemingly insurmountable odds to build a cathedral while England falls into anarchy around him.

I haven’t read Follett’s book, so I have no idea how the Starz mini-series compares to it.

I’ve heard from others that he writes strong women well, and I think that’s apt praise.

Ellen, the mother of Jack, is not only a strong woman, but also one of the most realistic medieval characters I’ve seen in historical fiction. As fearlessly played by Natalie Wörner, Ellen embodied the “flesh” side of the era—as opposed to Prior Phillip who stands in for the “spiritual” side of the era. When she urinates in front of Bishop Waleran to let him know exactly what she thinks of him and his judgments, she came alive to me as a medieval woman.

A modern woman wouldn't do that.

Many people forget, or just don’t know, the role urine played in the medieval era. From medicine to making wall plaster to removing lanolin from fleece, urine was a useful part of daily life. So the insult wouldn’t have had the same ew factor for our medieval bishops as it likely did for viewers.

In my upcoming book, ENTHRALLED, my heroine weaves and she also dyes her own thread. That bit of personal history isn’t relevant to the story, so I didn’t go into the fact that she would’ve used urine not only to clean the wool but also to make the dyes.

During the era (and prior), urine also was used as a bleaching and tanning agent, as part of medical treatment, including this interesting way to diagnose infertility from The Trotula.

“If the woman remains barren by fault of the man or herself, it will be perceived in this manner. Take two pots and in each one place wheat bran and put some of the man’s urine in one of them with the bran, and in the other (put) some urine of the woman … and let the pots sit for nine or ten days. If the infertility is the fault of the woman, you will find many worms in her pot and the bran will stink. (You will find the same) in the other (pot) if it is the man’s fault. And if you find this in neither, then in neither is there any defect and they are able to be aided by the benefit of medicine so they might conceive.”

Even today, some people promote a urine treatment for everything from athletes’ foot to aging facial skin. The idea is interesting but I’ll stick with my creams, thank you.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Victorian Masquerades

My heroine, Julianna Kent, is attending a masquerade ball in The English Marquesa. While researching, I found this interesting tidbit:

"Even the use of masks for masquerade ball follows a certain social protocol especially when it comes to formal parties or corporate parties. The color, the make and the quality say something about the person wearing it.

White masks for masquerade ball are better used by women while the darker colored Venetian masquerade is better for men. This practice was developed in the Victorian era, back when everything you wear, do or say represents something about your gender or social standing.

Anything that glimmer is really better reserved for women. Masks for masquerade ball with complicated designs, in fact, ought to be reserved for women. Adult male ought to keep it bare and direct. Adult female are broadly expected to be empirical and bold. That is not the same case for adult male. Adult female could also hold their mask using a stick as men ought to keep with the half face mask."

Author Resource:- Abel Alexander has been internet marketing for nearly 8 years. He recently launched a new site at Read everything about Masks for Masquerade Ball today.

Needless to say, Julianna shall wear a white mask. She wouldn't want to break protocol or go against proper etiquette...or would she?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire By Amanda Foreman

Having just finished reading this excellent book I thought I’d blog about it as it has so much to offer both to writers researching the eighteenth century, and to readers. This is the biography of a complex and fascinating woman and Foreman excels at the task.

Lady Georgiana Spencer was the icon of her age, adored by the public and largely ignored by her husband. William Cavendish the 5th Duke of Devonshire insisted that his mistress, Elizabeth Foster, known as Bess, come to live with them in what became a ménage á trois. She first came to his attention as the best friend of his wife. Surprisingly, the women’s friendship continued, despite Bess being exceedingly manipulative and jealous of Georgiana, disliked by her mother, Lady Spencer, and later by her children. Nevertheless, Bess had two children of her own with the Duke and lived with the Devonshires for almost twenty years, in a complex and ever-changing relationship, one in which Georgiana suffers exile and ignominy, and more than one rapprochement.

Foreman brings Georgiana to life by revealing her flaws as well as her many attributes, her main one being an addiction to gambling. Extremely fashionable at the time, her passion for the card table led her into enormous debt, the equivalent of several millions today. And since she was having trouble providing the required heir while Bess seemed to have no trouble at all in producing sons, her insecurities deepened, which only exacerbated the problem. I did get irritated with her at times, as she tangled herself in a web of lies and false promises, borrowing from her friends, but then using the money at the gaming table to try to win her losses back. But somehow Foreman kept winning me round to her side again.

She was a beautiful, talented woman and leader of fashion. She wrote poetry and plays, albeit published privately under a pseudonym. She was fascinated by mineralogy, regularly attended science lectures at the Royal Society and gathered together an impressive collection of her own. Most importantly, she was an influential political figure who became fully involved on the campaign trail at election time, and her supper parties were legendary. At a time when women didn’t even have the vote she was skilled at manipulating political decisions and the course of major events through her many friendships with Fox, Grenville, Melbourne, Sheridan and of course the Prince of Wales, who was caught up in the Regency crisis, as he waited impatiently for his father, the mad George III, to die.

As an aside, in this meticulously researched book Foreman also makes a good case for how much power eighteenth century women actually had, unlike that of their Victorian daughters who followed and were far more confined to domestic duties. I can heartily recommend this book as a beautifully written and most readable account of a doyen of her age, a mistress of PR, a devoted mother, but a self-perceived failure in the marriage stakes. I, for one, started by thinking she was an exceedingly silly woman and by the end my opinion of her changed to one of complete admiration, despite her flaws.

Happy reading,
Freda Lightfoot

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hidden Treasure

Posted by Jen Black, 6th September 2010
Aiming for something a little different this time, here's an excerpt from a book published over 30 years ago about walking along the Roman Wall. The author recounts various snippets of history, anecdote and good old travel writing as he walks the 70 miles. The location I've chosen is very close to me - about six miles away!

"Corbridge has certainly had its fair share of history. William Wallace burned the town down in 1296. Robert the Bruce did the same in 1312 and so did King David in 1346. It speaks highly for the quality of the Roman roads – straight down Dere Street from Scotland, first stop Corbridge.
Local Northumberland history was equally bloody. Ethelred, King of Northumbria, was slain here in 796. King John came, but on a peaceful mission. He’d heard about the remains of the Roman fort and had been told stories of buried treasure. His dig, in 1201, is about the first recorded archaeological dig in history. He found nothing except ‘stones marked with bronze and iron and lead’ which of course he wasn’t interested in. There was treasure. His spies were right. But amazingly it wasn’t discovered until over seven hundred years later. In 1911, six years after the modern excavation of Corbridge began, a bronze jug was found which contained a hundred and sixty gold coins, the largest hoard of Roman gold coins yet found in Britain. (Today they’re in the British Museum.)
Corstopitum, the Roman fort, is half a mile to the west of the town….lying just under two miles south of the Wall at the point where the Roman roads of Dere Street and Stanegate intersected. Its importance lies in the fact that it became the supply town for the central part of the Wall, with factories supplying goods and materials, shops and taverns where the soldiers could relax and a civil community which grew at its height to around forty acres….Its garrison was the ala Petriana, a Gaulish unit, later one thousand strong, the only cavalry regiment of its size known in Roman Britain at any time."
The author tells the tale of William Hutton, walking the Wall near Planetrees Farm. He was ‘so inflamed at the sight of a workman taking down ninety-five yards of the Wall in front of his very eyes that he is reputed to have burst into tears. He prints the name of the landowner who had order the dastardly deed, Henry Tulip, Esq. The said Henry Tulip had already taken down 224 yards of the Wall before Hutton had arrived, all to build a new farmhouse. Hutton commands the workman to go to his master at once. ‘Request him to desist or he would wound the whole body of Antiquaries. He is putting an end to the most noble monument of Antiquity in the whole island and they would feel every stroke.’’
Thanks to Hutton’s entreaties, twenty yards of the Wall are standing to this day. The whole book is an entertaining read, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks of walking even part of the Wall, or someone who likes reading about history.
Hunter Davies, A Walk Along the Wall, Quartet, 1976

Sunday, September 5, 2010

What's in a name?

Fiction writers have long had a tradition of writing under an assumed name, right back as far as the Brontes who wrote as Ellis and Currer Bell, and Samuel Clemens who chose Mark Twain, a humorous pen name from his days of working as a pilot on the Mississippi. “Mark Twain” was a common riverboat shout, meaning the water was two fathoms, or twelve feet, deep enough for safe passage.

Recently I was listening to a Radio 4 programme about this phenomenon which is increasingly widespread. Often if a writer changes genres he/she will re-invent himself as someone else, for example Norah Roberts has become J.D.Robb as a crime writer. Martyn Waites the british crime writer has re-invented himself as female - Tania Carver - because the publishers wanted a phenomenon in the UK like Karin Slaughter. Note that the surnames are increasingly violent - Robb, Carver, Slaughter, and I have just finished a crime thriller by Ann Cleeves! I think if I was to write historical crime I would have to be Jane Rapier. How about you?

As far as historical fiction goes, many people might not know that Victoria Holt is also Philippa Carr, is also Jean Plaidy. Her real name? Eleanor Hibbert.

The record as far as I know for number of names is Jayne Ann Krentz who has no less than seven!
When she isn’t writing contemporary fiction as Jayne Ann Krentz, she publishes historicals under Amanda Quick. On top of that she is in print under the names Jayne Bentley, Jayne Castle, Jayne Taylor, Amanda Glass, and Stephanie James.

So, I write under my real name, and one of the thrills for me when The Lady's Slipper was published was to see my name in print, and on my bookshelf alongside other famous writers. How many of the historical belles and beaus use their own name? If you don't, what made you choose another name?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"His Last Duchess" Giveaway Winner

Thanks to the lucky winner of a signed copy of "His Last Duchess" by Gabrielle Kimm is Aik from Malaysia. Congratulations! Thank you to all who took part.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Alone or Lonely


This subject came up in another context earlier this week and it led me to thinking about what some people think of as lonely is what someone else considers being alone—quality time with oneself.

To me being lonely is craving or simply needing company. Needing someone to be there to talk with, do something with or fill in the empty spaces of our lives. It can also be something that one person projects on to another, generally someone who prefers their alone time.

Most of the avid readers I know enjoy their alone time. Solitude may perhaps be a better choice of word. We read for entertainment, simple enjoyment, to escape our day-to-day world for a period of time. We read out of choice; not because we have no other choice. I suspect that is in part why historicals, especially romances, are so popular—they transport us to a time out of our own. When I read, which is for a time every day, it’s because I want to. It has never ceased to amaze me how non-readers think I am doing so because I am lonely and have nothing better to do. They do their best to entertain me and fill in my time for me when all I really want to do is bury myself in my latest read. I generally have another book handy and will offer it up—in the hopes they’ll leave me in peace to read. Generally I receive a smile and a pleasant refusal of the book. And they still talk on. Nodding and not closing the book seems to work after a bit.

Growing up my mother was one of those people who couldn’t bear to be alone for more than a short time. She wasn’t very good at entertaining herself although she did knit and crochet and sew, she still needed to have someone to talk to. If no one was home she’d start her way through her phone book, calling everyone she knew so she could have someone to talk to. Interesting to me because she was an only child. She projected that desperate need for companionship on to me and it was really quite frustrating. She simply did not understand I preferred to be alone in my room with a good book. My favorite day of the week was library day—when we’d head on down to the library to choose a week’s worth of reading. I’ve sort of recaptured that day in the past year only now it’s picking out classic movies along with an occasional book. Given the economy buying books is a luxury and the San Francisco library has virtually every new release and it’s still free (several libraries in my area are starting to charge a rental fee for new releases).

My habit of sitting up in bed reading started young although back then I sat under the covers with a flashlight. The last time I sat in an otherwise dark room with a flashlight reading was when I was in law school and a fellow classmate asked me to join him for a movie. I didn't realize till we got to the movie he thought it was a date and I thought it was just two classmates getting out of the school rut…errrr pressure for a night. When he started talking about goodnight kisses I started talking headache. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of a car as fast as I did that night and then, out of an excess of caution, I hid in my walk-in closet for several hours, reading with my flashlight as my only source of illumination. Why?

The guy was one of those really sweet and considerate people who would have gone to pick up some medicine for me, brought it back and then sat with me till I felt better. I just wanted to be by myself and read something beside my law books for a short while.

I don’t think I know what it’s like to feel lonely and that’s okay. I carry a purse large enough to hold a book in addition to my e-reading device—and with that I can have pretty much as many books as I want with me at any given time. I read on line at the store, waiting for a teller at the bank. I prefer in person instead of ATMs which may seem odd, but I figure if I go into the bank and speak with a person I’m doing my part to help someone keep their job. It’s the same reason why I won’t use the self-checkout at the grocery store. Can’t off-shore a grocery checker or teller job as much as the big corporations may want to because I’m not going overseas to pick up my groceries.

No, I don’t think I have ever had any idea what it is like to be lonely. If I’m craving a particular food I will go out to eat and bring a book. Riding the bus, waiting in line, it’s all found reading time. With interesting characters, their adventures, their mysteries, their dark moments, their happy endings and my imagination I’m never bored.

And with writing, as a fellow author said this week, her characters keep her company and are fascinating to be with. I suppose you could say with my steady ones from my series and the new people they encounter in each book, I’m never alone. Each new book takes me to a different place and in a sense I experience new events. Through research for my historicals I have a taste of life as it was lived in different periods. In my futuristics I create worlds I would choose to live in.

A reader is never really alone and even less so, a writer. I don’t think we are ever truly lonely either. Our worlds are fun at best and thrilling when we are in the midst of a good book and all from our cozy worlds.