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, my Regency Christmas comedy, is here!

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?


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!

(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,, 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 Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


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.