An Awful Crush – Redux

I am deep in “finishing a book” mode and coming up with an interesting topic for my blog seemed impossible. So I went back to some old postings I wrote and found one worth repeating. It was from 2008 and seemed apropos since many of us will be taking vacations and visiting museums and historic sites that tend to attract crowds (like the 4th of July holiday weekend in Washington, DC).

Here’s the slightly revised post from 2008:

I opened one of my (newly rebound)Annual Registers and found this account from June 27, 1811, about what happened when the Prince Regent opened Carlton House to the public to tour the interior. I’m abridging it greatly!

(This is also apropos because I just wrote a scene where my hero walks by Carlton House with Marc Grenville from Bound by Duty!)

Yesterday being the last day that the public were permitted to view the interior of Carlton-House, the crowd from an early hour in the morning was immense; and as the day advanced, the scene excited additional interest….The gates were only opened at certain intervals and when this was the case, the torrent was to rapid, that many people were taken off their feet, some with their backs toward the entrance, screaming to get out….Lord Yarmouth and the Duke of Gloucester appeared, and announced to the public, that the gates would not be again opened…this, however, had not the desired effect….Those behind irresistibly pushed on those before, and of the number of delicate and helpless females who were present, some were thrown down, and shocking to relate, literally trod on by those behind without the possibility of being extricated. When at last the crowd got inside of Carlton-House gates, four females were found in a state of insensibility, lying on their backs on the ground, with their clothes almost completely torn off. One young lady, elegantly attired, or rather who had been so, presented a shocking spectacle; she had been trodden on until her face was quite black from strangulation, and every part of her body bruised to such a degree, as to leave little hopes of her recovery: surgical assistance was immediately had, but her life was not expected to be saved. An elderly lady had her leg broken, and was carried away in a chair; and two others were also seriously hurt, but on being bled, were restored to animation….The situation of almost all the ladies who were involved in this terrible rush was truly deplorable; very few of them could leave Carlton-House until furnished with a fresh supply of clothes; they were to be seen all round the gardens, most of them without shoes or gowns; and many almost completely undressed, and their hair hanging about their shoulders….

Can you imagine it?

Now there’s an exciting scene for one of our books.

Have you ever been in such a crowd where you feared being trampled? I’ve been at exhibits that were so crowded you couldn’t see what you came to see, but this Carlton-House visit was literally a crush!

Hope you all are enjoying your summer and I also hope no one trods on you!

Posted in Regency, Research | Tagged | 3 Comments

The East Indian Connection (Diversions in Research)

Tipoos Tiger-pcard view      Are you familiar with this lovely item from the V&A Museum in London? I was not, until I recently received a postcard of this from a friend visiting London, who wrote “Look This Up Online” after his brief message. All of you who do research know what happened after that! Alice down the rabbit hole…. Ah, but there is so much more to what happened than that.

“Tippoo’s Tiger” is actually very famous and has been an object of curiosity ever since it was first displayed publicly in London in 1808. It is a nearly life-sized wooden sculpture, an automaton (the victim’s arm moves, and the tiger growls while the man cries out), a playable miniature organ with 18 pipes, and not least, a political statement by an Indian ruler whose hatred for the British is very clear.Close-up Tippoos Tiger-2

tipoos-tiger-organ view Tippoo was the sultan of Mysore, a power-and-territory-hungry thorn in the side of the East India Company and the cause of several wars. Tippoo’s Tiger was seized from Tippoo’s palace along with a great deal of treasure after the fall of Seringapatam ended both the 4th Anglo-Mysore War and Tippoo’s life in May, 1799. A few years after the Tiger was sent to England, it was put on display in the reading-room of the East India Company Museum and Library at East India House in Leadenhall Street. Did you know that the East India Company had a museum? In this picture, you can see Tippoo’s Tiger in the shadows at the left.East India Co Museum-Leadenhall_Street

The timing of my friend’s postcard was one of those Twilight Zone-ish coincidences that feel like messages. Synchronicities that happen during research never cease to thrill me. They feel like little gifts from the universe confirming that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. When his card arrived, I had just –I mean, literally days before –stumbled across some other East Indian-connected anecdotes in a most unlikely place, while I was researching something entirely unrelated. But I had jumped on them, because they tied in with a project I had moved to the “back burner” –revisions I’ve mapped out for the reissue of my 1998 Signet, The Magnificent Marquess, with a hero who spent most of his life in India. I had been reading Sarah Markham’s book, A Testimony of Her Times, Based on Penelope Hind’s Diaries and Correspondence 1787-1838. That’s research for the Christmas novella I am working on. But blessed Penelope repeated two tales of British subjects who survived tiger attacks in India. And then came the postcard! Message received –I’m back at work now on the TMM revisions. And my characters are definitely going to visit the museum, now that I have no length restraint on the story!

Pottery Figurine of H Munro & Tiger
Tippoo’s tiger figure may have been based on the same incident that inspired this Staffordshire pottery figurine (c. 1814) showing the 1792 death of British subject Hugh Munro in India (now in the British Army Museum).

The fact that stories about encounters with Indian tigers circulated all the way out into the country where a parson’s wife like Penelope Hind received them is a good reflection of how fascinated people were becoming with things East Indian during her lifetime. That fascination was multi-faceted; it included a kind of horror mixed with admiration, and for many, but not all, a growing sense of justification for the East India Company’s expanding domination. The tiger became not just Tippoo’s personal emblem, but a symbol of resistant India itself –a symbol used for the medals issued to the men who fought at SeringapatamSeringapatam_Medal_obv, and in political cartoons, and much more as the century advanced. I tried to give a sense of the variety of attitudes about India that existed during the Regency period in my novel.

The life and times of Tippoo (also spelled Tipu) inspired written accounts that I have not even begun to look into –most of this East Indian connection is just background for my story’s hero, at any rate. But besides the first published account about the final Mysore war, published in 1800 by James Salmon, Tipu's_Tiger_Salmond_1800Tippoo and his exploits figured prominently in art, literature and drama far into the 19th century. According to an article on the V&A’s website, “the Storming of Seringapatam unleashed a flood of prints and broadsheets. It inspired one of the largest paintings in the world, exhibited in London as a panorama. It was featured as a vast spectacular at Astley’s Amphitheatre, and cut down to size for the juvenile drama. As late as 1868 it set the scene for Wilkie Collins’s novel The Moonstone.” I am also now aware that G. A. Henty wrote a fictional account, The Tiger of Mysore, and then there’s Bernard Cornwell’s offering in the Sharpe series, Sharpe’s Tiger (which I have not read yet, but now I want to!). Have you read any of these?

An end-note on Tippoo’s Tiger: Tippoo’s Tiger was on display at the East India Company until 1858, after which it was stored, then displayed in the new government India Office, and then in the India Museum. It became part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection in 1880. The musical and noise-making aspects of Tippoo’s Tiger suffered over the years from public exposure and use, and gradually fell into disrepair. Eventually the crank-handle that powered the bellows inside the tiger disappeared. Not everyone was disappointed in this, however, as was noted in The Athenaeum magazine in 1869: “These shrieks and growls were the constant plague of the student busy at work in the Library of the old India House, when the Leadenhall Street public, unremittingly, it appears, were bent on keeping up the performances of this barbarous machine. Luckily, a kind fate has deprived him of his handle, and stopped up, we are happy to think, some of his internal organs… and we do sincerely hope he will remain so, to be seen and admired, if necessary, but to be heard no more”.

I’ve only scratched the surface here. For more information about Tippoo, his tiger obsession and his mechanical tiger, check this article offered by the V&A, or google the topic to find lots more!

Did you already know about Tippoo’s Tiger? Do you like stories that have an East Indian connection? Do you get distracted by fascinating historical diversions when you are doing research? Or how about those research synchronicities? Have you had those happen to you? What happened and how did you feel?


Posted in History, Reading, Research, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“But for there being no Ice, what could prepare me?”

Eating Ice Cream
My dear Cassandra,—I take the first sheet of fine striped paper to thank you for your letter from Weymouth, & express my hopes of your being at Ibthorp before this time. I expect to hear that you reached it yesterday Evening, being able to get as far as Blandford on wednesday.—Your account of Weymouth contains nothing which strikes me so forcibly as there being no Ice in the Town; for every other vexation I was in some measure prepared; & particularly for your disappointment in not seeing the Royal Family go on board on tuesday, having already heard from Mr Crawford that he had seen you in the very act of being too late. But for there being no Ice, what could prepare me?

(from Jane Austen’s letters, 14 September 1804)


As it’s so hot here that my brain is slowly melting (the majority of houses in this part of the world don’t have AC), I thought we could talk about desserts. Ice creams in particular. (And I certainly feel for poor Cassandra—no ice cream! Gah!) (Why is there no ice cream in my freezer?!!?!?)

Last November Myretta wrote a post about ice houses and how ice cream was made in the Regency period, while in a post in April Rose showed us an ice-pail, in which ice cream was brought to the table. (Wait, you don’t eat it straight out of the bowl? Because homemade ice cream is, like, the best thing in the world!)

When I looked up various ice cream recipes from the Regency period, I was quite surprised to see that a lot of recipes call for putting the cream with the sugar and/or jam/fruit puree directly into the freezing pot. In my experience, it’s easier to use a thick custard as the base for ice cream: it’s creamier from the get-go & thus freezes more easily (though admittedly, there’s always the danger that you end up eating the custard before you get around to making the ice cream…).

In The Complete Confectioner, Frederick Nutt describes the historical method of making ice cream: the freezing pot with the ice cream base is put into a pail packed with ice and salt and rotated until the base has frozen. Nutt also elaborates on the difficulties and pitfalls of making ice cream: “[D]o not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze” (from the 1807 edition, which you can find on Google Books). And there’s nothing more frustrating than when your ice cream won’t freeze!

I’ve long loved Nutt’s book, and the section on ice creams is particularly awesome. For not only does he suggest adding a little cochineal to give your ice cream a pretty color, but he also lists 32 (THIRTY-TWO!!!!) different recipes, with flavours ranging from raspberry ice cream to biscuit ice cream to Parmasan ice cream. That’s a man after my own heart!

In contrast to poor Cassandra in Weymouth in 1804, many of Jane Austen’s characters get to enjoy ice cream. In Northanger Abbey Maria Thorpe tells Catherine, the heroine, about an outing the day before:

“—that they had driven directly to the York Hotel, ate some soup, and bespoke an early dinner, walked down to the pump–room, tasted the water, and laid out some shillings in purses and spars; thence adjoined to eat ice at a pastry–cook’s, and hurrying back to the hotel, swallowed their dinner in haste, to prevent being in the dark; and then had a delightful drive back, only the moon was not up, and it rained a little, and Mr. Morland’s horse was so tired he could hardly get it along.”

A rather more exciting visit to a pastry cook’s can be found in The Beautiful Cassandra, one of Austen’s very early works:

“She then proceeded to a Pastry-cooks where she devoured six ices, refused to pay for them, knocked down the Pastry Cook and walked away.”


And now please excuse me while I go & rummage in the freezer in the hope of finding some hidden carton of ice cream.

Posted in Food | 1 Comment

For a Good Time Read a Regency

Our guest blogger today is Deb Barnhart, a long time friend and fellow romance reader. I asked her to tell us why she reads Regencies and her answer follows. But I also encourage you to check out her Pinterest site to see some of the lovely Regency images she has collected. Thanks Deb for the kind words and your thoughtful response

Regency historicals touch my romantic soul at its deepest level. Whenever I enter that time period through the imagination of favorite writers, like Mary Blayney, Loretta Chase, Cathy Maxwell and Lorraine Heath, there is a level of intimacy present that I don’t find in contemporaries or other historicals.
For me, that early 19th century time frame offers so much more freedom in character and story where it runs the gamut of dark to light, sweet to sexy, drama to comedy. I love that kind of variety when I’m looking for a good read and Regency authors always provide it.7724e76dd128d1585b1595bd6676919a

Of course, Jane Austen is still a favorite of mine and Georgette Heyer is always good company, but I have read every one of Mary Blayney’s Pennistan series and the Braedons with the same level of joy and pleasure. Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCROUNDRELS could not be sexier or more fun to read, unless I’m reading Janet Mullaney. I recently reread THE RAKE by Mary Jo Putney and found it as fresh as when I first read it.

I am such a Regency fan girl. The authors I mentioned, and the many I have not, have seen me through good times and bad. Regencies have allowed me to experience the Peninsular War, weekends in English country houses and evenings in infamous gaming hells. But from my very first Regency, what I love most about them is the romance. I adore stories about Dukes who find love for the first time and ladies who want nothing to do with it.

I love happy endings and Regencies do that best of all. They sweep me away from whatever crisis I am experiencing and into a past where pelisses are all the rage, women are feisty, love is always new and happy is ever after.th1T6QY5LS

Since you read this blog you read Regencies. So tell me was it Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer or Regency history generally that inspired you to write or read that genre?

Is there a Regency that you have read that has a special memory for you personally as a reader or a author?

Posted in Guest, Reading, Regency, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Lisa Chaplin and The Tide Watchers

imgresToday our guest is my good friend, Lisa Chaplin. Lisa and I “met” on an Australian/American writers group that came about because of our interest in Romance writing. Some of us have gone on to other ventures, including Lisa, but we’re still in touch by email several times a week.

Lisa’s first Historical Fiction, The Tide Watchers, will be released June 30, just a few days from now. The Tide Watchers has already earned some rave reviews:

9780062379122A Starred Review from Library Journal
In this brilliantly complex novel, Australian author Chaplin…tightens the suspense at every moment while exploring sympathetically the motivations of republicans and aristocrats alike and highlighting the allure and danger of families, secrets, and false identities. Highly recommended for anyone who likes a “ripping good yarn.”

Four and a Half Stars from RT Book Reviews
…incredibly strong and moving tale….A fast-moving pace and a wonderful melding of accurate historical events with honorable, passionate characters make this book impossible to put down.

New Books in Historical Fiction
…a fast-paced story that will keep you riveted in your seat as the pages turn.

You can listen to an interview with Lisa here.

To celebrate Lisa’s Historical Fiction debut, I’m giving away a copy of The Tide Watchers to one lucky commenter here.

Tell us about The Tide Watchers.
Here’s my one-minute blurb: In early Napoleonic France, Lisbeth’s husband abandons her without her papers, without her child. She’s determined to be reunited with her baby and return home. The English baronet’s daughter makes a desperate deal with mysterious British spy, Tidewatcher: she will move in with brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton as his housekeeper, learn how to use his submarine, and charm him into giving it to her. Then she must teach Tidewatcher in turn so they can infiltrate a blockaded French sea-town, find Napoleon’s secret invasion fleet, and somehow disable it just before its launch.

You have written fabulous books for Intimate Moments and Harlequin Romance as Melissa James. How is it you came to write a book of Historical Fiction like The Tide Watchers?
Funnily enough, in a way The Tide Watchers is a natural extension of my old Intimate Moments Nighthawks series. When the line closed, I wasn’t invited to write for the new Romantic Suspense line. I was lucky enough to be asked to write for Harlequin Romance, which I happily did for 6 years. But I never stopped loving espionage novels, and my favorite reading was always historical. I’d read a biography called The Terror Before Trafalgar, which awakened a hunger to write a historical espionage book. Eight years later, The Tide Watchers finally sold, and to my perfect publisher.

The Tide Watchers has already been making a big splash. What’s been the most exciting part of this experience so far?
The whole thing has been an amazing ride for me! William Morrow is a fabulous publisher to write for, and my editor and agent have made it almost like a dream. Getting the power of choice over my cover, my back cover copy, and the like has been wonderful. But the sales rep from Barnes & Noble, a Napoleonic history buff, loved the book – and recent reviews I’ve received from American Library Journal and Romantic Times, it’s all really blown me away. I received the former at the NY office of HarperCollins, and I had to blink back tears of joy. To know others that love history and know history really like my book…I can’t describe it.

What is risky about The Tide Watchers?
The whole book throws the characters far outside their comfort zone. Most of them are seasoned spies, and in a position to save Britain in this time of terror, but ultimately each major character pays a terrible cost. Brilliant, unconventional Lisbeth risks life, reputation and family to save Britain, and to save her child, but she cannot reconcile her sacrifice with what she loses after. Duncan risks the family he always craved to stop Napoleon’s invasion, and loses everything. And his half-brothers risk life and career to save their brother – and the cost to them comes in book two!

Tell us about one piece of research for the book that surprised you or that you did not know before.
The one that surprised me the most, I suppose (there are two), was that brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton was not only in France at the exact time I needed him to be, but was working on early submarine and torpedo technology – and, biggest of all, he seems to have disappeared from the record in the exact months that the book takes place! He turned up again a few months after, which again made it perfect for my second book. The other (sorry, I love both) was the intervention of Lord Camelford at this time, the man called “The Mad Baron”. His attempt to kill Napoleon, and its repercussions for both France and Britain, led to the most bizarre discoveries! But that’s for book two J

You just attended the 200th Anniversary Battle of Waterloo Reenactment. Did you see our fellow Risky, Susanna Fraser there???
Haha…sorry, but I did meet, purely by chance, a Napoleonic military expert walking off the station at Braine l’Alleud! We walked to the battlefield together, and spent the day with him. He pointed out which uniforms were from what battalion, country and where those men fought on the field that day, where they were in earlier battles, etc. He also told me about the role some women played, as victuallers, nurses etc. He gave me his email address and said he’s available for any military question. He’s one of several knowledgeable people I’ve met on this trip that are willing to share their knowledge, so I feel very fortunate.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently on a research trip for the next book in the series (current title Blind Winter). When a past mission gone horribly wrong catches up with Alec Stewart, he puts his brothers and cousin in danger of their lives, as well as his ex-lover and her family. With bounty hunters chasing them all, a fledgling nation fighting for its independence, and Lisbeth’s baby’s father after his son, the vicious power games being played by leaders and spymasters alike change their world forever, including “The Mad Baron”, Lord Camelford. You won’t believe what happens to him! As they say, real life is stranger than fiction…

Thanks, Lisa!

Remember, everyone, comment here for a chance to win a copy of Lisa’s The Tide Watchers. Tell us what you like about Historical Fiction. How is it different than Historical Romance, in your opinion? Or just say hi to Lisa or ask her a question.

Posted in Guest, History, Interviews | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

To prove the world was round? REALLY? Who writes this stuff?

I have one week left on my revisions deadline for Listen to the Moon at the moment and a lot of work still to do, so I’m updating and reprinting an old post from my blog—a very topical one, because as I’m sure you’ve heard, this week is the bicentennial of Waterloo. Now, of course the battle was a few days ago, on June 18th, but the news didn’t reach England right away…

This post was inspired by one of those perennial discussions about accuracy in historical romances over at History Hoydens. As you can see from my looong comment, this is something I’ve given a lot of thought to yet totally failed to come up with a coherent policy. I evaluate anachronisms on a case-by-case basis! My anachronism ethics are situational!

But you know what I do hate unequivocally? Apocryphal historical anecdotes repeated as fact. Like how Columbus wanted to prove the world was round (I was taught this in elementary school! It makes me FURIOUS!), or how Queen Victoria didn’t believe in lesbians (this myth is not even that old, it originated in 1977). Now this is frequently a mistake made in good faith but I think that is what annoys me the most—how these lies become so ubiquitous they completely obscure the truth. The truth matters! Which leads me to…

The news of Waterloo. My spy romance A Lily Among Thorns is set in London in the two weeks before the battle.

But…they’re not actually the two weeks before the battle. They’re the two weeks before the news of the battle reached London, late on the night of Wednesday, June 21st. The news quickly spread, turning into an impromptu parade through the streets of London. It must have been so thrilling!

Of course, Nathan Rothschild knew about the outcome of the battle first.

a Regency portrait of a balding Jewish guy, probably in early middle age, in a dark coat and white cravat.
Nathan Mayer Rothschild, by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The popular story is that he went to the ‘Change and purposely led traders to believe he knew the battle had been lost. There was a panic and he was able to buy up “consols” (OED: “An abbreviation of Consolidated Annuities, i.e. the government securities of Great Britain”) at a very low price, seizing control of the Bank of England and making his fortune.

I totally believed this! You read about it everywhere! It’s in Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract! (Just another reason to dislike that book.) I included it in the first draft of A Lily Among Thorns. But oops, it is FALSE. The story originated in an anti-Semitic pamphlet in 1846, a clear relative of theories that Jews secretly run the government and/or the economy.

(The post I just linked to, by the way, also makes it clear that Rothschild was not the only person in London to have early news of the battle and that both word-of-mouth and printed rumors were circulating freely by Wednesday morning.)

Here’s what The House of Rothschild: Money’s Prophets 1798-1848 by Niall Ferguson has to say:

No doubt it was gratifying to receive the news of Napoleon’s defeat first, thanks to the speed with which Rothschild couriers were able to relay a newspaper version of the fifth and conclusive extraordinary bulletin—issued in Brussels at midnight on June 18—via Dunkirk and Deal to reach New Court [the location of the Rothschilds’ bank’s London branch] on the night of the 19th. This was just twenty-four hours after Wellington’s victorious meeting with Blücher on the battlefield and nearly forty-eight hours before Major Henry Percy delivered Wellington’s official dispatch to the Cabinet as its members dined at Lord Harrowby’s house (at 11 p.m. on the 21st.) Indeed, so premature did Nathan’s information appear that it was not believed when he relayed it to the government on the 20th; nor was a second Rothschild courier from Ghent.

He then explains that Waterloo was actually financially disastrous for the Rothschilds, who were financing the British army and had all their money tied up in things that were suddenly no longer necessary—and no longer likely to be paid for by the government.

In London, a frantic Nathan sought to make good the damage; and it is in this context that the firm’s purchases of British stocks have to be seen. On [June] 20, the evening edition of the London Courier reported that Nathan had made “great purchases of stock.” A week later Roworth heard that Nathan had “done well by the early information which you had of the Victory gained at Waterloo” and asked to participate in any further purchased of government stock “if in your opinion you think any good can be done.” This would seem to confirm the view that Nathan did indeed buy consols on the strength of his prior knowledge of the battle’s outcome. However, the gains made in this way cannot have been very great. As Victor Rothschild conclusively demonstrated, the recovery of consols from their nadir of 53 in fact predated Waterloo by over a week, and even if Nathan had made the maximum possible purchase of £20,000 on June 20, when consols stood at 56.5 and sold a week later when they stood at 60.6, his profits would barely have exceeded £7,000.

(As a matter of fact, even the supposed quote from the Courier simply does not exist—and mention of it first appeared two years after the publication of the abovementioned anti-Semitic pamphlet, as a new footnote in the second edition of a very popular history of Europe.)

Ferguson goes on to demonstrate that the Rothschild brothers were in dire financial straits all through 1815 and beyond—they did come out on top in the end, of course, but not with a controlling interest in the Bank of England. (He also talks at length about their disorganized accounting practices. The whole chapter is incredibly detailed and fascinating—I haven’t read the whole book yet but I want to.)

Diane did a great Riskies post on this topic around the same time I made my original post, which includes a lovely account of the news of the battle reaching England. I really recommend watching the video even though it’s kind of long—and if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at LEAST watch the first couple minutes so you can see the clip from a Nazi propaganda film depicting an exaggerated version of the apocryphal Consols story.

What’s your favorite/least favorite apocryphal historical anecdote?

(And by the way, A Lily Among Thorns fans, I am taking reader prompts and requests for mini-stories about the characters of Lily in honor of the Bicentennial, so stop by and tell me who/what you’d like to know more about!)

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Dashing off to the Black Forest

Martin's Gate, sketch by Sandra Schwab
Martin’s Gate

This is going to be a super-short post because I need to dash off and be on my way to the Black Forest on a rather unexpected trip. Last week, the press office of my university was contacted by the BBC – do we have an expert on the Brothers Grimm willing to travel to Freiburg for an interview? Needs to speak English. The lovely people at our folklore department remembered me and forwarded me the e-mail, and now here I am, about to be … er … interviewed by the BBC. *gulp*

I’m going to leave you with a few impressions of Freiburg from my last visit. It’s such a beautiful town, with little open gutters (Bächle) running through the town center. The first were built in the Middle Ages to provide water for animals and for fire fighting. Other reminders of the medieval past can be found all over town: for example, there’s the Martin’s Gate, which used to be part of the old city wall and was first mentioned as Porta Sancti Martini in 1238.

Medieval minster, Freiburg, sketch by Sandra Schwab
The Medieval Minster

Then there’s the medieval minster, which dominates one of the central town squares. When I was last there, the very top was covered with green netting: the red sandstone is corroding fast, and so the upkeep of the church is a continuous process.

Waterspouts at the minster, sketch by Sandra Schwab
Gargoyle Waterspouts at the Minster

Something I’ve always loved about the minster is the multitude of gargoyle waterspouts that watch the going-ons in the square from high above. It’s a strange assembly of grotesque animals (some of them are actually quite cute!), devilish creatures, grinning skeletons, and strange human figures. I’m looking forward to seeing them all again! :-)

And now I better hurry and get on the road. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

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Fabric Resources

I’m currently working on jazzing up my workshop on Georgian Textiles for the Beau Monde’s mini conference at RWA next month. So I thought today I’d share a few fabric resources with you all.

There is an amazing reproduction of one book belonging to a particular woman out there: Barbara Johnson’s Alum of Fashions and Fabrics. Unfortunately, it’s out of print and very expensive these days. But if you Google it, quite a few of the pages are posted on the internet and it’s fairly easy to find in most large library collections. Her book is fascinating as contains not only swatches, but period fashion plates and notations about the gowns made with the fabric.

Page from Barbara Johnson’s Alum of Fashions and Fabrics


There used to be a couple of great swatch books that were readily available (Textiles for Regency Clothing and Textiles for Colonial Clothing) but both are out of print and shockingly expensive now.

There are also the Threads of Feeling books, which are devoted to scraps of fabric that infants and children left at the Foundling Hospital were wearing (they were meticulously kept as an aid in identifying the child should the parent return to the claim them). This is a great resource if you want to know what people of the lower orders were wearing (there’s an amazing amount of color and pattern to the fabrics; nothing drab about them).

Page from Threads of Feeling

A recent lucky discovery for me is the fully digital collection of swatch and pattern books in the Winterthur Museum’s collection.

For example this image is from a swatch book dated 1800-1825. The entries indicate the producer and amount on hand, indicating that this was likely an inventory book for a store.

Winterthur 1800-1825
Page from the Winterthur swatch book

And there are always museum collections. The Victoria and Albert has a large digital collection that features quite a few fabrics (hundreds from the Georgian era alone).

While it’s perfectly fine to simply describe your heroine’s gown as “sprigged muslin”, it can be a bit more fun to occasionally delve further into the history and describe it as a “block printed muslin with meandering floral embroidery”.

Indian muslin, Victoria and Albert museum.
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“I love deadlines…

…I love the wooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I wish I’d written that but alas, no. Douglas Adams said it (author of HITCHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.) But if I thought of it I would have said it. I find deadlines a challenge.  I thought eliminating the contractual deadline from my life would make writing more fun. It might. If I ever got around to actually writing.

As you may (or may not) recall from my past two posts I have a new story brewing. I anticipate that it will be novella — something under 100 pages and I will epublish it.

The story is in my head, growing and changing every day. I know it will have no external conflict cause Bella Andre has proved that external conflict is not essential to a readable story. Especially a short one.

I’ve blogged about it. I’ve entered the first page at a Retreat I attend every year (Yeah, they liked it and it was an anonymous submission so it was not my warm and generous nature that won them over)

Since the hero and heroine are the names of people I know (by request) I invited one of them over to hear the outline of the story and get her okay to the use of her name in connection with a woman who has a questionable past and use her husband’s name for a hero who has suffered a tragic lost.

Mimi LaCouture is a  successful artist. One of her painting is below and here is the link to her website( Mimi understands the pain of criticism and the value of a suggestion. She said “Fine, sounds like a good story and wouldn’t it be interesting if …. ” and she went on to supply a plot idea that was great and that I had not thought of (might have, but she saved me the effort)Hanging%20Out

So I am all set to put Mimi and John’s story on page. The title has been a big question. It’s (hopefully ) a series so do I name it for the lead two characters, where they live, what they do and with a sub title re this story? Or simplify, cause really a thumbnail cover is pretty small. Still mulling that one over but, let’s face it, I can come up with a title anytime in the next 100 (or so) pages

The house is clean (thanks to house cleaning professional, Michele for that,) the laundry at an acceptable state of overflow. I’ve mastered crock pot cooking so no one starves and I’ve learned to leave lots of white space on the calendar (probably the biggest challenge of all)

Ready, set, STALL. Instead of writing I spent some time last week figuring out how to remove a scorch mark from a cotton dress shirt. (A few drops of ammonia, layered over with a peroxide dampened cloth and then pressed with a medium hot iron. It takes a while but it worked). Then I removed the cloudiness from a crystal vase (white vinegar ), and then, heaven help me, I started daily weeding of  our yard as if it was a mission only I could take on.

What is going on here? Do I actually need a deadline to produce anything. I will keep you posted on this great question. But more important: what is your favorite (or most insane way) to put off the moment when you BEGIN? Not a question just for writers. I do believe this is an experience shared by all. Right Mimi?




Posted in Anything but writing | 8 Comments