Thursday, July 29, 2010

Historical Expectations

Shakespeare said it best: “Oft expectation fails, and most oft where it most promises…”
Thanks to my expectations, I can’t watch Pillars of the Earth.
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.
The channel promoted the miniseries for a month or so before the first episode aired July 23. And I was readyon the couch with my soda and snack. And the series began with the burning of the White Ship.
The White Ship didn’t burn.
For those who didn’t make an academic career out of studying the 12th century, on Nov. 25, 1120, the White Ship hit a submerged rock just north of the Barfleur harbor and sank. It was dark, likely cold and most of the ship’s inhabitants were intoxicated. All but one drown, including England’s prince, the only legitimate son of King Henry I.
The loss of a direct heir plunged England into 19 years of civil war and anarchy after the king’s death as rival claimants fought for the throne and no one ruled.
As a historian, it’s a rich time period to study.
As a novelist, I get creative license (and have been known to take a few liberties with historical figures myself).
As a viewer, I understand that an opening shot of dark seas against a dark sky isn’t the grab you-by-the-gut image filmmakers want. I even enjoy Heath Ledger’s medieval romp, A Knight’s Tale.
So why did the burning of the White Ship bother me so much?
Expectations set by the “making of” video.
Those connected with the project talked ad nauseam about the effort that went into making it historically accurate. From the sets to the costumes to the mud in the streets, no detail was seemingly overlooked. So I naturally expected above average attention to all the facts, including the inciting incident: the sinking of the White Ship.
More than likely, I’ll try to watch it again, and when I do, I’ll just keep telling myself that it’s not about the history.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Salt Publishing

Like the independent bookshops, small independent book publishers are struggling and some are going under. I hate to see this happen.
But we all have the power to change it by buying books from indie publishers and stores.

The latest one to feel the pinch is Salt, a small UK publisher. They have a program called 'Just One Book' which is a cry for help -  to you - to buy one book from them to starve off closure.
Please, if you can, buy a book from Salt, or if you haven't the funds then spread the word to others who have.
You can read more about 'Just One Book' here
Let's support the book industry!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots

By Stephanie Burkhart

Gabrielle Anwar, Margaret Tudor on "The Tudors."

A part of Henry VII always worried that the English Crown might not fall to his male progeny. He is quoted telling his councilors:

"Supposing, which God forbid, that all my male progeny should be come extinct and the kingdom devolve by law to Margaret's heirs, will England be damaged thereby or benefited?"

This was in 1502, as England waited to see if Arthur and Katherine, Prince and Princess of Wales, had conceived. The future for Henry VII's male progeny looked bright. But we all know history had other plans.

What niggled in the back of Henry VII's mind? Was he haunted by the deaths of the Princes in the Tower, rightful heirs to the throne, before their deaths? Did he have anything to do with the Princes' deaths, as the rumor mill implied? Only history knows, but he did feel, STRONGLY, that his daughter's heirs just might inherit his kingdom.

Margaret was born in NOV 1489. She was six when her father proposed a marriage between her and the Scottish king, James IV. This was Henry's way to quell the support the Scottish had for Perkin Warbeck, who was supposedly Richard of York, Edward IV's son. Rumor was Elizabeth Woodville, put a changeling in her son's place before he was taken to the tower.

In 1502, Margaret was married to James IV by proxy. She was 13. It was noted that Henry, Duke of York, 10 years old, threw a tantrum when he realized his sister held higher precedence than he did at court.

In 1503, Margaret joined her husband in Scotland. It was a poor nation, but James was a strong leader and held the warring nobles in check.

James and Margaret were not a love match, but there was strong affection between the couple. Interestingly, Margaret didn't bear children right away. It was speculated she used birth control methods of the time to "time" her children. She was 17 when she first gave birth to a son. Total, Margaret had six children with James IV, but only 1 child, James V, lived to adulthood. All her other children with James died in infancy.

The Scots were natural allies to the French. In 1513, James went to war with England to honor his French alliance and died in the Battle of Flodden. Interesting Historical Note: Katherine of Aragon, now Queen Katherine of England was Regent at the time, and it was her forces that killed James.

Margaret was named regent – as long as she stayed a widow. She gave birth to a son in 1514, after her husband's death.

She managed the regency well, but her heart got the better of her. Her first marriage was for state reasons, her second was for love – she married Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, a Scottish Lord.

The Scottish lords didn't like that and sent for John Stewart, Duke of Albany to be regent from France. Without support, Margaret was force to flee to England. Her daughter, Margaret Douglas was born in England. (She lived to adulthood and was the Countess of Lennox – Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley's mother – remember him? Mary of Scot's husband)

Archibald stayed in Scotland while Margaret was in England. (Everyone thought he'd stay in England with his wife and baby daughter.) He had to hold his property so the crown couldn't get it. The separation ruined the marriage and Margaret sought a divorce. In 1527, the pope gave it to her.

Her brother, Henry VIII, was appalled. Ironic, considering what he dared to do just a couple of years later – get a divorce himself. And we all know what the Pope told him.

Margaret played Scottish politics and intrigue. Her son, James, was crowned at 12 and she remained an advisor, but their relationship always had a bit of a strain to it due to their separation when he was younger.

Margaret married a 3rd time to Henry Stewart, another Scottish lord. She married for love, but time quickly proved her a 3rd time loser. Henry was a big flake like Archibald. Through the help of her daughter-in-law, Mary Guise, Margaret reconciled with Henry, her husband. She died of a stroke in 1541.

Her son, James V, had a daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary's son, James VI came to the English throne, heir to Elizabeth I, Henry VIII's daughter.

While Elizabeth served well as Henry VIII's heir, it was Margaret's great-grandson who united England and Scotland, and in her way, it was Margaret's heirs who better served England, as her father supposed they would.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Looking Back on My Love Affair With Historical Romance by Regan Taylor

This summer I decided to treat myself to something special that would last me all season long. Because of things going on I wanted something that would take me back to a simpler and happier time in my life. I wanted romance and passion and to be swept away. My answer came in the form of pulling out all my old Rosemary Rogers' books, starting with Sweet Savage Love.

Ask any long time romance reader and the two names they seem to always say started them on their romance reading career are Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss. For me, they set the bar in what a romance was. The genre has changed in the last forty years or so, but in terms of a timeless romance, I think most readers would agree, they are among the most memorable.

I read and re-read and re-read Sweet Savage Love again and again for years, often switching it off with Ashes in the Wind.  Cole and Alana in Ashes in the Wind were the perfect balance with the tempestuous relationship Ginny had with Steve in the Morgan series. I hadn't read either book in at least a dozen years and thought I remembered them in precise detail. When I began to read Ginny and Steve's story once again, some parts came back to me right away and others I'd forgotten. Some of the forgotten parts rewoke memories of not only the story for me, but what I was doing during the years I read the book, finished it and began it again.

As a reader I never noticed things like point of view or subtle references to events and incidents that caught my attention with this most recent reading. Maturing and learning a bit more of the world also clarified some things that I noticed in the early readings but wasn't quite so sure about. Now I get those things. Ms. Rogers shaped my romance life as a reader. I can clearly see her influence on some of my writing. And I can see something that would not only send some editors running screaming, but would probably have the book sent back to her for some re-writing. I could almost see a few places where perhaps Ms. Rogers earlier books would not have seen the light of day. I for one am glad they did.

It wasn't until this summer I actually looked Rosemary Rogers up as an author. I devoured her books as a reader, but until recently didn't consider the person behind the books. Her characters were so vivid, so full of life, I didn't need to know about her. With a new book due out this October I knew I hard to learn more about the person behind these well-loved characters. She truly is a self-made woman and she definitely rose about trying circumstances in her own life. Her biography is an amazing tale of a talented woman with the determination to succeed. Not at all unlike Ginny Morgan.

Based on the books I see today and have experienced myself, chances are Sweet Savage Love would probably not be published today, at least as it is. My most recent copy (I re-read it so many times that this is my fourth copy of it) is a bit over 600 pages and with very fine print. If normal 12 pitch were used I imagine it would be close to 800 pages. More likely than not, someone along the way would suggest separating it into two books, breaking the story perhaps after Ginny's marriage to Steve and picking up after their dual arrests. That wouldn't be an issue; after all, it is a series that takes you through their lifetime together through the other books in the series.

I've never been a point of view purist and in reading this book I can see perhaps why. As I said, she shaped my view of romance reading and to a point, my own writing. There are any number of places where there are dual points of view in one sentence, let alone in one paragraph. Each character's point of view, their thoughts, feelings, needs and desires, are offered one right after the other, most of the time in separate paragraphs. I personally like that. I don't want to have to wait for a new chapter to find out what the hero thought when the heroine engaged in a certain behaviors or activities -- and I don't necessarily want her impression of what she thinks he felt. I can see why it was such a struggle for me to comply with the rigorous one point of view per scene rules we have these days. I grew up with books that offered the fuller perspective of all of the characters in a scene contributing their thoughts -- and it didn't confuse me.

Ginny begins as a wily nilly flirt who's main concern is what dress she is going to wear on a given day. As the story unfolds her own innate strength begins to come through and she survives some of the most horrific experiences a woman can go through. While some may see her as the poster girl for Stockholm Syndrome, without naming this modern day emotional reaction, she herself wonders why she has such tender feelings for Steve. In the end, it is her own self-learned strength that puts her on the path to winning the man she loves. I felt the horror when she is brutally attacked again and again. I wanted to clap when she kills one of her antagonists.

If Steve Morgan walked the streets today, doing what he did in the book, he'd be arrested as a sexual predator if not a serial rapist. Yet by the end of the book he, himself, comes to terms with why he has been so careless with Ginny's life, physically, emotionally and mentally. He too has his moment of epiphany.

There were parts, as I said, when I first read the book that I thought maybe I got, but wasn't too sure. Dr. Cabrillo was one of those characters. If Sweet Savage Love were written today, more likely than not he would have forced Steve to comply, not at all unlike the way man after man raped Ginny. I kind of missed the innocence I had the first times I read the book; but applauded how Ms. Rogers' handled not only the scenes with Steve and Dr. Cabrillo, but how Steve confronted his own demons about what the man did to him in retaliation for his refusal to submit.

Steve's return to the prison where he almost died was another eye opener for the more mature me -- having a masters in counseling, living my own life experiences and being more worldly in general I could appreciate his reactions going back down into that dark world that almost ate him alive.

For me, the story brought to life a period of time I didn't know much about. We didn't learn about Juarez and Porifino Diaz where I went to school. I don't even remember even a passing mention of the events taking place in Mexico after our own civil war in the United States.

It is fiction with the embellisments you expect from a fictional account. Yet the story brings the time to life as well as the changes and growth each of the characters experiences. Neither Ginny nor Steve would fit in our modern world and their story could not be told with as much passion and enduring love if anyone tried. She would be in counseling and he would be in prison. They are characters for the turbulent time which were created for. A time long past for us modern readers and writers. Yet we as writers can evoke the same intense emotions be it in historical, contemporary or futuristic tales as these women who shaped our genre did. Both characters surmount their own internal demons as well as those they evoked in each other. They blazed a path for us to push our boundaries, to explore the what if's of our chosen periods, to tell our stories.

Sweet Savage Love, as well as the other books in Ms. Rogers' series and later Ashes in the Wind, set the tone for me as to what a historical romance should be. I may never write a saga such as the Morgan books, but I aspire to evoke the emotions in my readers Ms. Rogers has long evoked in me.

What romance was your first?

Does it still set the tone for you in what a romance should be?

Did it set the bar for what all other romances should be?

As an author, did it give you a goal to aspire to?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

St Bee's Man

Research can be so interesting! Interested in the uses of honey in history, I found a link to St Bee’s Man. I’d heard something of this topic at a conference some years back, found it interesting and decided to have a peek. I found a full report, with links to further information, and decided that others who write and read medieval history might want to read it.

“Dr Eddie Tapp, a paleopathologist from Preston who had done much work on Egyptian mummies, were obtained via an emergency grant from the Department of the Environment.The examination which took place over the next two days made some truly remarkable discoveries, all linked to the amazing degree of preservation of the body. It had been wrapped in linen impregnated with some resinous substance and this, plus other factors, had resulted in the extensive formation of adipocere, a natural process which occurs under certain conditions of cold and dampness (though rarely to this degree). This had preserved the body organs and tissues in such detail that it was possible to determine not only his cause of death, but also his state of general health prior to the injuries that killed him. Details of the findings are described in Dr Todd's historical paper on this site (but be warned, it contains several photographs of the examination which are not for the squeamish!).

The skin, where not stained by the wrapping cloth was still pinkish. The tissues when cut, were very similar to the appearance seen in similar examinations of the recently deceased, and in the chest cavity, liquid blood was found.”

I won’t add more, for some won’t want to know the details. For those who are interested, follow the link: here
I’ve not included pictures for the same reason – they may not be what everyone wants to see.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Historical Fiction - Can It Be As Accurate As Non-Fiction?

Most people assume that historical novels, even those that are closely based on actual persons and events, inherently represent a much lower standard for historical accuracy than non-fiction books. In this instance, I'm not speaking about novels set in a time and place for dramatic effect with little regard for authenticity. I'm referring to historical fictions that are carefully crafted by authors to be highly accurate in regard to events, people, details, and circumstances of the period portrayed.

Numerous examples of such books can easily be identified in the marketplace by perusal of reviews from competent and knowledgeable sources. Unfortunately, without even being read, these novels often suffer the disdain of history buffs simply because fictional elements are incorporated into the story. This lamentable situation raises a question. Can well-written historical fiction be equivalent in accuracy to books routinely classified as non-fiction?

Generally speaking, works of historical non-fiction are founded on the author's interpretation of vaguely written, contradictory, and incomplete documentation of past events. Consider the Official Records generated by both the Federal and Confederate armies during the American Civil War. These "after action reports" are the basis for many factual pronouncements in non-fiction books, yet an examination of Official Records for any given battle will reveal widely differing renditions of what happened.

Unit commanders, who were required by regulations to file these reports, frequently had divergent recollections due to the fog of battle, or sometimes they simply made misleading assertions to either glorify some or shift blame to others. To clarify such situations, historians have sought collaborative evidence from diaries, letters, and memoirs of other participants, including common soldiers. While providing an interesting perspective, these unofficial sources may also exhibit bias, embellishment, or misinformation for one reason or another. A surprising amount of what is published as absolute fact in historical non-fiction is simply an educated guess by the author, based on their interpretation of the available material.

The suppositions presented may be the exclusive opinion of the author, or may encompass the interpretations of a number of scholars and historians. However, the discovery of previously unknown primary source material that contradicts this consensus will cause the immediate realignment of the historical "facts" into conformance with the new data. Clearly, history, or more precisely our understanding of it, is a continuing process subject to modification with each new finding of credible information.

In my opinion, the conjecture upon which non-fiction authors frequently rely is not necessarily more accurate than fictional aspects created by novelists who are dedicated to presenting a realistic written picture of a by-gone era. This is particularly true if the novelist has applied strict criteria that there's no evidence to the contrary regarding the imagined elements of the novel. By creating authentic scenes and dialogue that may very well have happened, a novelist can enhance our understanding and appreciation of past events and the people who lived in those interesting times. Readers who are exclusively devoted to non-fiction may find that, on occasion, indulging in a well-crafted historical fiction can be both enjoyable and educational.

David H. Jones is the author of "Two Brothers: One North, One South". Navigated by Walt Whitman and closely based on real people and events, "Two Brothers" presents the quintessential story of the American Civil War. Intertwined are the adventures of Hetty, Jenny and Constance Cary, the reigning belles of wartime Richmond.

Friday, July 16, 2010

In line with the subject of that last post...

Rules to Engage a Gentleman's Interest

(If anyone can tell me where I got this piece, I'll send them an E-copy of my historical romance, The Macgregor's Daughter)

Observation #1: If a lady shows too much interest in a gentleman, he'll soon grow bored, and she'll find herself chasing after him.

Observation #2: Never pursue a gentleman. He would like nothing better. If you wish to win his heart, you mustn't dance to his tune.

Observation #3: If a gentleman is particularly stubborn, demonstrate that you can get along just fine without him. not express this thought out loud.

Observation #4: Allow your gentleman to suspect that he is not your first choice and unless he changes your opinon, he is merely a temporary distraction.

Observation #5: Never argue with a gentleman. It isn't proper or ladylike.

Observation #6: If another lady sets her mind on your gentleman, you must ignore her attempts to sway him. This can be very discouraging but take heart. Your cheerful indifference will likely annoy her.

Observation #7: When your gentleman asks to call on you, hesitate slightly.

Observation #8: Do not overindulge at the dinner table. Nothing is more frightening to a gentleman than envisioning his future with an enormously plump wife.

Observation #9: Use discrepancy in your first season but avoid selecting any one gentleman as the exclusive recipient of your favor. Instead, use your wits as well as your charm to encourage eager young gents to engage in harmless flirtations. Not only will this fill your dance card, it will make your heart race and leave a lovely blush upon your cheeks.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The difference of historicals

From the Haywain Triptych by Hieronymus BoschI'd like to point out a few ways in which historicals are - well, different. I love reading historical novels of all genres and I love to write them, so are my five 'star' points that I look out for in the stories that I really enjoy.
1. Realistic reactions. In the past, the roles and pressures on people were different to now and a good historical reveals this. Women's liberation as a movement did not emerge until the late 1960s. Women (and working class men) did not acquire the vote in Britain until the early 20th century. Before then, the role of women was determined by family and peer pressure, by the church, by society's expectations, by class and above all by biology. (My great-grandmother had 14 pregnancies, 12 births, 2 miscarriages. In the days before reliable birth-control, women often spent their child-bearing years doing just that.)

In earlier warrior societies, where brute strength was prized as a means of winning booty, only a very unusual woman would be big enough and strong enough to fight as an equal warrior. Remember, food would often be in short supply and the sons and men ate first, not simply because of their higher status but because of survival. Men are generally more physically strong in pushing heavy ploughs, and so on. They needed to be well-fed.

2. Realistic dress. Fashion and past fashions is a fascinating business to me, but in a good historical dress also reveals class and tactile elements. A heroine who is changing her gowns every chapter may not be realistic. Clothes were costly and time-consuming to make. Fashions in the country would be less cutting edge than those of the city. Even cloth and colours would vary - the rich would have access to silks and more expensive dyes.

3. Realistic settings. How people lived in the past is very different from modern-day life (at least in the developed parts of the world) and that is worth showing in a historical. The daily trudge for water would be part of someone's life, as were the anxious waiting on crops and the hunger experienced while the harvest slowly ripened. In an unscientific age the fear of the unknown affected everyone - was the hail storm the sign of an angry god? Was a sudden illness in the village the result of witchcraft? If illness is not understood, then the evil eye becomes as good a reason as anything else. If 'everybody knows' that disease comes from the stench of the gutter, it becomes understandable to protect your cottage from pestilence by growing fragrant roses around the door.

4. Realistic plotting. In the past, communications were a major problem. In a world without the internet, battles could be lost because the flanks of an army literally could not talk to each other. A messenger could take days to ride or run from one part of any country to another. There were no policemen in ancient Greece, where the family was expected to take revenge and seek redress if any one of their people was murdered or injured. A good historical is aware of these difficulties and exploits them.
5. Realistic names. Sorry, but - unless the story is fantasy or timeslip - in a story set in 10th century AD somewhere in western Europe, or in China or India, 'Brad' or 'Chantelle', although pretty names, simply don't fit the places or the period and pull me out of the story.

Those are my 5 key points. What are yours?


Monday, July 12, 2010



The recent death of my twenty-two year old kitty, Molly, and people's reactions to her death had me taking a look at how we mourn the loss of a loved one, be it human or animal. As a therapist, I'm no stranger to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief – denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance. As a person who has lost loved ones I have felt the stages intimately. Of all the things our world of 140 characters seem to have taken away, i.e., having a lengthy conversation, writing in full words, breezing through life without truly feeling, it seems grief is the one thing that slows us down and allows us to reflect. And not only our own grief, but that of those around us. Grief seems to open the door to connect with people we never knew or weren't that close to. In the past month I've seen reaction range from the need to run away from the grieving person to coming to terms with a loss in the other person's life to everything in between. It is a common human bond. And it is a bond I have found is shared by other animals in the home.

In the animal community we have what we call the long goodbye. This is a death that comes about not because of an accident or sudden passing, but one where the animal is ill, we know it, we do what we can to treat the illness, yet we know the time will come when we have to say goodbye. While one may think the long goodbye doesn't hurt quite as much, it has its own unique pain – it is a battle we go into knowing we will lose but still hope to win. It is one where we question over and over again, what did we miss? What more could we have done?

In the days after Molly's death there were no two reactions alike. Her vet cried, openly, as did a few members of the staff who had known her. One co-worker came up to me the first day and held on to me, crying over the loss of her own dog several years before. For her it was a loss so devastating she couldn’t bring herself to adopt another. Another co-worker was so upset the avoided me for a day and then came to be sobbing because of all the emotions that arose from memories of her own cat who died a few years before. And, there was the one, the one we all dread, whose "sage" advice was, "well you can adopt another cat, right?"

In an attempt to make sense of my own grief and loss I picked up several books on death, dying and what is left for those who live on. That, in turn, led me to reflect on grief through the ages.

The earliest civilization we have really anything concrete to look at were the Egyptians. To some of us they had an almost morbid fascination with death. From the time of their birth, the upper classes made preparations for their death and rebirth. Grand pyramids were designed, treasures to bring with them into the afterlife accumulated, paintings completed showing them in their greatness. Every step of their lives focused around Ma'at and how Anubis would weigh their hearts against a single white feather. In a morbid sort of way I wondered, given the pre-occupation of transcending into the afterlife, those left behind mourned or felt a prick of jealousy that they had not yet reached that pinnacle. Michelle Moran's book, Nefertiti, takes her readers into the world of the ancient Egyptian death rituals and one I recommend as an excellent read for more than the preparation for death.

We know little of the common man's death, dying and rebirth hopes, but we know quite a bit of the pharaoh's and other near royalty. Organs were removed and placed in Coptic jars, the bodies were mummified, a multi-week process, then placed in elaborate sarcophagi to launch them into the afterlife. They were carried to their final resting places, adorned with their treasures, surrounded by paintings of depicting their greatest deeds and often their slaves were sealed within to serve them in the great beyond. I questioned whether or not those left behind would mourn as we do today.

At the turn of the 19th to 20th century, society decreed a period of one year as proper for a widow to mourn. She had to dress in black, refuse most visitors and comply with other societal constraints. After a year she might add gray and perhaps a bit of color to her wardrobe.

In the 1950's or thereabouts society decreed grief be allocated three days and then it was time to move on. My sister, Dorothy, died when I was eleven and she just turned four. I was fascinated with the process; the somberness of the family and the things they said and did. The Catholics blamed the protestant side of the family; the protestant side blamed the catholic side and they both blamed the metaphysical elements. I didn't see what a deity had to do with Dorothy's death; but at that time I hadn't read much about the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses and how jealous they could be. We sat in the viewing room for the requisite three days, all of us dressed in black, speaking low, crying and whispering when I was near. What stunned me was after the burial, instead of returning to our home with my parents so we could reflect on what happened, come to terms with my sister's passing, all of those people who had sat weeping showed up to a dining room laden with food. Coats were removed, dishes picked up and filled and the house reverberated with laughter. My head spun. We'd just buried my sister – what did these people have to be happy about. After they all finally left my mother took me shopping to buy me two new dresses. She wouldn't talk about the three days before except to tell me we had three days to grieve.

It wasn't until my cat, Toby, died and I went to visit my parents decades later that my mother broke down and cried about my sister's death. It took her over twenty years to cry for her loss. All I had told her was how, because Toby was quite ill, I would leave him at the vet each morning so they could care for him and how after work I would stop and bring him home if I could, or visit till they closed and brought him home with them. It was when I spoke of driving over a hill in the fog my mother broke down and cried, weeping uncontrollably for a long, long time. When the tears subsided I asked if she cried about Dorothy and she said no, we had our three days when she passed. Clearly she still grieved.

Today we theoretically still have three days to mourn, but in fact we don't. Most companies give you a day for bereavement. In passing one might hope their loved one dies on a Thursday so they can have their mourning done by Monday morning. People express their condolences and then move on; not wanting to talk about a life event that will at some point, touch all of us.

Some people said nothing more than a cursory, "I'm sorry" when they heard Molly died. Others, bit by bit, came to talk or write me about their own pet losses. One friend has come by and shed tears almost daily for several weeks about her own special cat. Molly's death didn't necessarily open up a closed wound; rather it gave her permission to express my friend's own sense of loss. When I went to pick up Molly's ashes to bring her home for the last time, her vet sat with me for a long while and cried her own tears for her cat who died several years before. The loss of a pet seems to open up a place in people's hearts that they normally would never expose.

Looking at my own reactions, my own sleepless nights, my own bargaining for just a few more hours if not days, I don't see how there can ever be a time limit on grief. How much smarter our 19th – 20th century ancestors were allowing for a year to mourn. I wouldn't agree with a forced period of a year; but to have that time if I needed it, would have been a gift. Of course I realize society, our society, would not condone a year of mourning for a pet. How much more sensitive the early Egyptians were in their reverence for the pet cats with families mourning their passing.

I don't recall many books, fiction books, set in our modern times that acknowledge what we feel with death. People die in books, particularly in mystery and romantic suspenses, but the story moves on, not delving into the emotions the fictional survivor might have, how grief may contribute to the heroine's decisions or how the hero may strive to hide his reactions. It is a reminder to me when I give my characters emotions that these too are part of our human experience and should be included in some fashion in our stories.

Monday, July 5, 2010


I love writing Regencies about spies and now have three novellas where spies make an appearance. But the spies during the Napoleonic era were not like James Bond or those in contemporary literature. They were informers and intelligence gathers who worked for Wellington and were not always treated well.
In my book, LOVE AND WAR, my hero, Gyles Devereaux, the Earl of Halcrow is a member of the Hussar Regiment. His spymaster is George Scovell. Scovell was the chief codebreaker for the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War of 1808-1814.
Under Wellington’s command, codebreaking and intelligence gathering played an important role in British victories such as Oporto (1809), Salamanca (1812) and Vittoria (1813).
Scovell, a gifted linguist, developed a system of military communications and intelligence gathering for the British that intercepted French letters and dispatches to and from the battlefield, and cracked their code.
It is to Scovell that Lady Selena turns when her mysterious husband, Lord Gyles disappears again. And, unwittingly, she places him in great danger.
For anyone interested in learning more about spies and spymasters, I have a much more detailed blog on

The importance of a son

posted by Jen Black 5th July

The problem of childlessness attracts a lot of attention today, but it cannot match the strain such a matter put on a sixteenth-century Queen. Her one function in life was to bear sons. If she did not, she was a failure. Anne Boleyn reached Henry’s side by education, personality and courage, but then had to accept that everything hung on the production of a son. Her step-daughter Mary, who understandably resented Anne, no doubt laughed at her problem; but she too would fall foul of the same problem in years to come.

One son – one would think it surely could not be too difficult with a man like Henry. As time went by and the sons did not arrive, as they had failed for Katherine, Anne, like Katherine before her, shouldered the blame. Yet large families were not the commonplace we might think in the sixteenth century. Women spent what must have seemed like lifetimes being pregnant, but that did not always translate into large families. And especially it did not mean that a son and heir was a given. Many families of the time produced only daughters, or no children at all, and titles skipped to nephews.

Did Henry have sexual problems? In 38 years he slept, over a period of time, with eight women, including both wives and known mistresses. Only four of the eight conceived. Only four pregnancies produced healthy children, one for each of the four women – Katherine, Anne, Elizabeth Blount and Jane Seymour. Other pregnancies ended in stillbirth, miscarriage or death in the first few days of life.

It certainly raises the possibility that Henry was the root cause of his lack of heirs. It seems clear venereal disease was not to blame, as is sometimes suggested. His medical history and treatments are most unlike those of Francis of France, who definitely had the pox. There are no payments in the household accounts for the particular medications in use at that time for such a complaint. The so called syphilitic leg ulcer was more likely caused by osteomyelitis as a result of an injury in the tilt yard, and which never healed satisfactorily and caused him massive pain when abscesses formed deep in the bone. A seventeen-hands horse in half armour falling on you is apt to leave an impression!) Medical knowledge of the time could not deal successfully with such an injury. He never rode to the joust again, and increasing immobility coupled with a huge appetite led to an ominous weight gain. Pain led to shifting moods plus outbursts of irritation and temper.

When Anne Boleyn miscarried in July 1534, it probably brought back all Henry’s doubts about himself and Katherine. Today we know that anxiety about virility can lead to loss of potency, and he must surely have suspected, deep down, that he was the problem. A wife who produces no sign of pregnancy is one thing, but a wife who becomes pregnant but produces weak and sickly children is another thing again. Henry would know, as would his courtiers, of families where in-breeding produced deformities. They would also know of infertile stallions and bulls. From there it was a small step to the obvious conclusion.
It was more than a year before Anne was pregnant again.
At George Boleyn’s trial, he was asked if his sister, Anne, had told him that the King was unable to attain or sustain an erection. They say that the question was written, and the fact that George answered verbally ensured that he was executed.

Anna of Cleves may not have been Henry’s type, as we say these days, but his reluctance to bed her suggests his at least partial impotence. More conclusive is the fact that Mary Boleyn and Katherine Parr became pregnant the moment they married and bedded other men, and perhaps what sealed Katherine Howard’s fate was the thought that if she had been dallying, and became pregnant, then it might not be Henry’s son who inherited the crown of England. Henry couldn’t take that risk. Nor could he risk her saying it wasn't his...

Sunday, July 4, 2010


To most of the world, a Yankee is a citizen of the United States. But within the US, there are Yankees, and then there are Yankees.

A Yankee can be a Northerner, a citizen of one of the states that made up the Union, or the North, in the American Civil War.

If you're already in one of the Union states, Yankee-ness increases as you head north and east until you reach New England, the six states in the northeast corner of the United States. Derivations vary, but according to, "Yankee", first used in 1750-1760, is a corruption of Jan Kees, (John Cheese), the name by which the urbane Dutch inhabitants of Nieuw Amsterdam (New York) referred to their rustic Connecticut neighbors.

But even in New England, the degree of Yankee-ness increases to the north and east. Boston Brahmins and the residents of northern New Hampshire and Maine are Yankee-er than their fellow New Englanders

And at the very pinnacle of Yankee-ness, those Yankee-est of the Yankees, are those who trace their ancestry to the Pilgrims who arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the Mayflower in 1620.

These nuances can be fun or annoying, depending on your point of view. In the end, none of them matter. On this Yankee-est of days, July 4, Independence Day, all Yankees, of whatever type or degree, wish our country a Happy Birthday.

Happy Fourth of July to Yankees everywhere.

Thank you all,


Linda Banche

Enter My World of Historical Hilarity

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Un-dressing a book

When I first looked at the cover of my novel The Lady's Slipper, my first thought was that it was lovely, but then my second thought was -
where did they get that dress?

The jacket shows someone dressed in eighteenth century costume - a photograph of a model holding a flower. Because I used to be a costume designer and I know from experience that costumes are recycled, and move from one production or one film to another, I thought it might be fun to find out where the dress had been before it graced the cover of my book. Maybe it was on the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company, or maybe from a BBC drama. Maybe it had been worn by a great actress or a star, or maybe by someone in their first ever role. (Now wouldn't that be appropriate for a debut writer) So far I have managed to find the photographer and trace the hire company, and will keep you posted when I find out if anyone famous has worn it. Meanwhile you might be interested to know that the BBC do recycle their costumes frequently.

some of my costume designs
When I worked there one of my first menial jobs was to write the brown labels that go in every costume, pinned to the actual garment by a small gold safety pin. After every programme had been filmed the clothes were laundered, (thank goodness) and then came to be labelled up before going into stock.The label told you the name of the actor that had worn the garment, and the title of the programme and the date. If it had been worn by a major name, particularly recently,then you tried not to bring that costume out for any other well-known actor. When I first started, my job was to clothe the extras, so that meant sifting through all the costumes looking for ones that were big enough. (Mostly the leads are slim and trim, and the extras for some unknown reason much bigger and wider!) Usually costumes for lead chracters are designed and made from scratch and the poor old extras get the cast-offs. Sometimes these are held together at the back with pins if you only see them from the front. Often if an extra is only seen from the waist up, as is often the case on TV, they will be in ordinary clothes from the waist down!

Another of my early tasks was to "break down" costumes to look old using a cheese grater and a dark treacly gunk called "Tetraseal" which was supposed to stop cars rusting, but which we used to use to muddy hems, grease collars, and generally give an appearance of age.

There are viewers who devote themselves to spotting recycling errors, where the same dress is worn by different chraracters in different dramas, so if you want to see a few examples click here at period films

Here is a typical example...
Above you can see Anna Maxwell Martin playing Esther Summerson in Bleak House 2005
And on the right you can see the same frock worn by Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre in 2006.

You might be interested to know that - according to the people who designed my covers - the American market prefers a more "active" design, the British more static for historical fiction. Do you agree? Has anyone else got an interesting story about the costume on a cover design, or those of you designing your own book jackets, how did you go about it?

Friday, July 2, 2010

English Garden Tours - Victoriana Magazine

If you are writing a Victorian Historical, Victoriana Magazine can be quite helpful and inspiring!In my novel, Call Me Duchess, I visualize my heroine, Marguerite Wiggins, walking leisurely in Kensington Gardens surrounded by suitors.

Kensington Gardens, one of the Royal Parks on this English garden tour, has 275 acres of formal avenues of magnificent trees and ornamental flower beds. The Gardens are located at Kensington Palace, the choice of William III and Mary II for their London home. Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace and lived there until she became queen in 1837. Queen Victoria commissioned the Italian Gardens and the Albert Memorial. Outside Kensington Palace stands a statue of Queen Victoria sculpted by her daughter, Princess Louise, to celebrate 50 years of her mother's reign.

During the 19th century, many magnificent English gardens were located within traveling distance from the center of London; because these English gardens were accessible by steamboat, omnibus or steam railroad, an English garden tour became a popular public attraction.

The gardens were undulated with carriage drives around and through the grounds; with broad graveled walks in various directions, opening long vistas through well grown trees—some in rows, but generally irregularly planted with plenty of room for the full development of each and every tree.