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I love road stories, especially when told by the great comic writer Georgette Heyer. I’m reading Sprig Muslin today, where the hero is stuck with a teenaged runaway and has to chase her around Cambridgeshire. All we get are names of towns and villages– Brampton, Huntington, Thrapston, St. Ives– some of which (esp. St. Ives, which is the name of an important Cornwall town, and on the other side of the country!) lead to confusion. Thank goodness for Google. I put in some of the names mentioned by Heyer as destinations or waystations in the hero’s chase of Amanda, and zing, up came a map, and now I know where they are!
What are some other books where we can track the characters’ movements? I want to try that with some Christie novels. Maybe I can find St. Mary’s Mead!
January sees publication of The Guardian Stones, a mystery set in rural
Shropshire in 1941. Although it concerns events in a village, it is not a cosy but
rather a darker story examining the nature of evil in a small community.
Our plot called for a village dominated by an ancient stone circle and
located in a forested mountainous area near the Welsh border. Shropshire has a
fair number of standing stones but not too many stone circles — the best
known are probably Mitchell’s Fold and the nearby Hoarstones circle —
nor does it have any circle located where we needed it.
So Noddweir came into being.
A fictional settlement like Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead, its name is a
corruption of the Welsh word noddwyr (alternatively spelt noddwer), one meaning of
which is protector. Then, furiously tapping on our keyboards rather than
hauling chunks of stone up hill and down dale, we perched the Guardian
Stones at the top of a steep hill giving a fine view of the village and vice versa.
A new arrival to Noddweir describes the village as “nestled in a narrow
fold between wooded mountains rising gradually north, west and south.
Cottages clung to the incongruously named High Street as if cowering
away from the forest…The majority of the houses were small, built of
brick or stone with slate roofs. The largest building, a sturdy church
with its squat Norman tower, recalled a time when Noddweir had been
more populous. The Guardians pub, the second largest structure, sat
beside the church. Beyond the village…the knob-shaped hill of the
Where there’s a stone circle, there’s usually a legend or two connected
with it. Based on common threads in a couple of such stories we created one
for the Guardian Stones involving a long ago wise woman who helped
villagers in various ways until eventually, as so often happens, they turned on her, and
what took place after that. Those events led to generations of villagers
regarding the brooding stone circle with unease, and in time a children’s
rhyme grew up:
Time stands still
On Guardians Hill
The Guardians dwell
In deepest hell
Don’t go alone
Inside the stones
That surmount still
Thus, with creation of its residents and details of everyday events
appropriate to an isolated rural settlement during the period, did
Noddweir appear on the map.
A village, an ancient stone circle, civilian life while Shropshire is at
war. We hope we’ve done them justice.
Mitchell’s Fold Stones in Shropshire
The Guardian Stones is published by Poisoned Pen Press.
Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, authors of the Lord Chamberlain historical
mystery series, lurk in plain sight as Eric Reed. They are currently
writing the sequel to The Guardian Stones.
Here’s something historically romantic… or not. “Flirtation cards” men would (supposedly) hand out to lovely ladies in the Victorian times…. Apparently, “Can I see you home?” was the (admittedly more tasteful) equivalent of “Can we hook up?”
Warning– bit of bad-wording in the beginning, but I assure you, that’s from the modern author, not the Victorian gentlemen.
Notice however that the one about the lamp mentions “our lamp” and “our sofa”…. not sure what that’s about. And apparently lying about your millions started before our century!
Jane Austen adaptations are still popular! This is a costume drama based on her Lady Susan.
h/t Martha Tonkin
So why her plots and characters still appeal to modern audiences?
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REMEMBERING MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
Half a life-time ago, I was in a women’s consciousness-raising group at which we read Mary Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). In it she told women to think for themselves, get an education, and work toward equal rights for all. I felt an immediate kinship with this spirited 18th-century Englishwoman. Reading her collected letters, I discovered that we were both raised in a somewhat impecunious, unstable home, with no room of one’s own to write in. We escaped (we thought) at an early age—Mary at nineteen to caretake a cranky old lady, and myself at twelve when my father died, rushing me into a girls’ boarding school for five long years. I worked hard at my studies and played sports, something Mary advised. A female should “cultivate mind and body,” she insisted in a day when women might spend up to five hours just getting dressed and coiffed. But mine was a uni-sex world, whereas Mary had envisioned boys and girls working together—highly unusual for the time!
Later I lived with my husband in an all boys’ school where I wasn’t allowed to teach English, my college major, because the headmaster considered it “a man’s subject.” I got back at him by directing a number of radical plays, but to no avail. So with Mary Wollstonecraft in mind, I went on to earn a masters degree in French, and became the department head of languages, with three men under my direction. Yet beyond my ivory tower, women were dying from abortions or producing multiple children. I already had four, born in rapid succession—although the “pill” was about to stop the flow. Mary, of course, had advocated her particular brand of birth control: “Did women suckle their own children,“ she reasonably wrote, “there would be such an interval between the birth of each child, that we should seldom see a houseful of babes.”
Her advice didn’t work for me, but I went on with the fight. I joined NOW, and sat up all night on a shaky schoolbus to join the Equal Rights Amendment fans in Washington DC (we lost). But many of my peers were afraid to risk a husband’s or employer’s disapproval and join the struggle for power. “Though I do not wish (women) to have power over men,” 18th-century Mary insisted, “but over themselves.”
I taped her words above my desk, and published a first novel about a rebellious faculty wife in the sixties—not unlike Mary, A Fiction (1788), Wollstonecraft’s first autobiographical novel written after she was fired as governess to a large Anglo-Irish family. “I shall live independent or not at all!” she declared, undefeated, and went on to publish her Vindication for which they cruelly called her a “hyena in petticoats.” All her short life after that she deplored any injustice, and one time literally kidnapped her own sister from an abusive husband. They went spinning through the streets of London with the husband in hot pursuit while the sister bit her wedding ring into pieces, and made it safely to a rented room.
She had a hard time, though, reconciling her principles of independence with her sexuality, and in her early 30s fell desperately in love with the artist Henry Fuseli. One day she went knocking on his door to request a mέnage ᾲ trois—only to have the door shut in her face, while a red-faced Henry stood in stony silence at the top of the stairs.
To escape the Fuseli scandal, she took ship for Paris as a “war correspondent,” to write a history of the French Revolution, where the guillotine was already claiming its bloody victims. There, she lost her own head (a virgin at 34) to a dashing but feckless American captain who got her pregnant and ultimately abandoned her and child. Despite a leap into the Thames and an overdose of laudanum, she persevered, married the writer William Godwin, who for the first time in her life offered commitment. But shortly after giving birth to a second daughter, the future Mary Shelley (of Frankenstein fame), she died of septicemia when a doctor yanked out the split placenta with unwashed hands. Godwin wrote a detailed memoir of her radical life from his point of view only, and Mary was considered a bad girl until the 20th- century when several well-researched biographies and a collection of her fascinating letters revealed her as the highly original, brilliant though conflicted woman that she was.
Since I shared many of her principles, thoughts and flaws, she became an alter ego for me. She was far from perfect, yes, and she made some poor judgments – but always owned up to them, and fought fiercely for what she considered right. Thinking she’d make an excellent – if sometimes impetuous – sleuth, I planned to write her colorful life into a trilogy of mystery novels. To begin with, I reconstructed her frenetic year as governess to the aristocratic King family as a novelist would, imagining, with the help of her detailed letters, what she’d have said and done. I kept as close as possible to her character and personality while staying true to time, place and the people historically connected to her. Perseverance Press published the novel beautifully, then brought out my second mystery set in London at the time of her Vindication and the Fuseli scandal. The final novel, Wild Nights, depicting her life during the Paris massacres, is just out from Prince and Pauper Press as an ebook—ultimately to be in print. Viva la Rέvolution!
Nancy Means Wright www.nancymeanswright.com
My great-grandmother Helen Pustek emigrated from Slovakia in (I think) 1902. (My granddad, her oldest son, was born in 1904, as I recall.) I remember her in her eighties as a tiny birdlike woman. I don’t think she ever learned to speak English. My cousin Charlotte found a Christmas card from her in some old papers and sent this jpeg. The card is (I assume) in Slovak. Imagine that– it’s not like there were millions of Slovaks here! I can’t read the language, but I think it’s Slovak. The ornate but thin font is like I remember from my grandparents’ Slovak bible.
I notice that someone else has written “Mother” before her signature. (The card was sent to her son, Uncle Rube as we called him — John.) I bet she could write her name because it would be the same in Slovak, but probably wouldn’t know how to write the English word Mother.
Cotehele is an isolated late 15th century fortified manor house in Cornwall, on the west bank of the River Tamar. It’s extremely well preserved because the noble family whose ascent began there built themselves a splendid mansion in Tudor times, Mount Edgcumbe, down near Plymouth. After that, they used Cotehele only for summer family gatherings and sometimes as a dower house. One wing was “modernized” to Victorian standards for an ancient relative. The rest stayed pretty much the way it was.
The first time I saw Cotehele, now a National Trust property, I knew I wanted to set a book there. I was writing Regencies at the time. The place and period were perfect for a tale of smuggling, and Smugglers’ Summer ensued.
At that time, virtually the only approach to the house and estate was by water. Smuggling was rife in the Plymouth area and the semi-deserted house on the river would have been perfect for hiding goods brought over from France: brandy, lace, wine, tobacco; and, from further afield, tea—all highly taxed. A “folly” tower on the Cotehele estate had a direct line of sight to a church on the coast opposite Plymouth, so warnings could be communicated from one to the other when Revenuers were active.
From my point of view, the one thing missing at Cotehele was a secret tunnel, so I created one for my story. Apart from that, I described the house exactly as it stands, with a bit of guesswork for the Victorian wing.
I even made use of the legends attached to Cotehele. Supposedly Sir Richard Edgcumbe, the builder, owner, and occupant, was close beset by his enemies. He ran off through the gardens to the top of the cliff overlooking the river, where he hid in the bushes. When they followed and started searching the undergrowth, he took off his hat, put a stone in it, and threw it into the river. The searchers heard the splash, looked down, and saw his hat floating. Assuming he had fallen or jumped, they went down to look for him, and he made his escape.
Too good a story to waste!
I didn’t waste my secret tunnel, either. Years later, after I switched to writing mysteries (set in the 1920s), I set Mistletoe and Murder at Cotehele. The children—Daisy Dalrymple’s stepdaughter and nephew—discover the tunnel and go searching it for clues. The murder in the story takes place in the tiny chapel on the cliff, erected by Sir Richard in gratitude for his escape.
[Not so coincidentally, Mistletoe and Murder has come out in audio just in time for the holidays.]
The one aspect of Cotehele that I haven’t (yet) put in a book is the ghost stories, as I don’t write fantasy/woo-woo (apart from The Actress and the Rake, a Regency with a ghost, and retelling of some fairytales in a Regency setting).
The first I heard of ghosts at Cotehele was from a friend of my mother, a lecturer in Slavic Studies at the University of London, a woman with her feet firmly on the ground. She and a friend visited Cotehele. They were sitting in the garden (beautiful, by the way) admiring the house when they both saw at an upstairs window a young woman in a white, high-waisted gown. They hadn’t noticed any volunteers in costume, so they asked about it. They were told of a young woman in Regency times who had acted as companion to an elderly dowager then resident. When the old lady died, she was sent home, but she had loved her time at Cotehele and afterwards haunted it. The story is a bit like that of Fanny in Mansfield Park.
On my next visit—I should explain that my sister lives just down the river, making it convenient—I was looking at a history of the house in the gift shop. In it, I came across the same story. I wish I had bought the book there and then, because next time I went I couldn’t find it. I asked about it, and was told it didn’t exist. When I asked about the ghost of the young woman, I was not only told there was no such story, I was firmly repressed—no one would talk about it except one volunteer who actually said they’d been told not to talk about it! Strange.
The other haunting they will admit to. It’s a different old lady, who lived there in Victorian days. All that remains is a faint scent, of violets I think, that is sometimes detected in the rooms she occupied.
Altogether, Cotehele is a beautiful and fascinating place, and well worth a visit, with or without ghosts!
Carola Dunn is the author of over 60 books, including many Regencies, the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series, and the Cornish mystery series. Her website: www.CarolaDunn.weebly.com and find her on Facebook.
Regency and historical author Lauren Royal has posted some great recipes from the Regency era, which she has tried out! See what you think of her rabbit stew and candied flowers and other delicacies, each tied to one of her books.
My friend (and collaborator) Lynn Kerstan once spent a month or so making ratafia (she had to let it sit for a month, but stir it everyday) and sent me a bottle. When I had read about ratafia in Georgette Heyer novels, I assumed it was a ladylike little drink, perhaps a bit of wine added to fruit juice, a cordial. No– it’s serious Manhattan-level cocktail. I modified Lynn’s recipe, but it’s still pretty high-octane:
A bottle of brandy (I don’t know how BIG a bottle)
One cup of dark rum
A half-cup sugar
A pound of peeled and sectioned and slightly smashed oranges
(You can add cherries or berries too)
A teaspoon each of cinnamon and nutmeg, a teaspoon of vanilla extract
Put in a big jar, cover, and shake for ten seconds. Let it sit in a cool dark place for two months, steering or shaking every two days.
Now when I read about Heyer’s heroines daintily sipping their ratafia in little cups, I’ll imagine their hangovers the next morning!
Killer Frost (2012), Farm Fresh and Fatal (2013) & This River: An Epic Love Poem (2014)
Would you click this link and nominate my book? https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3VWUZJI12YWD8
I have just finished a new novel, and I’m trying something new, the Kindle Scout program. And I hope you’ll help me by clicking this link and “nominating” the book.
This is a program where Amazon Kindle chooses certain submissions for publication based partly on nominations from the public. Would you nominate my book? All it takes is following this link for my Regency-England mystery novel Tryst at the Brighton Inn and clicking the blue Nominate button (right under the description of the book).
There’s an excerpt from the book there on the campaign page. If the book gets chosen for publication, you’ll get a free e-copy. Thanks!