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Very sad news– a Lioness has died.

Jo Beverley, the multi-award-winning historical romance writer, has died. She has been a friend for decades, and in fact was the person who first got me online in 1992, telling me it was where all the romance writers were getting acquainted.

She recently gave me a guest post for this blog:

Jo has always been known for her lovely writing, her serene composure, and her willingness to help other writers and readers. I can’t say how much we’ll miss her. And it’s so sad to think of how much her husband Ken and her children and new granddaughter will miss her too.

Here’s a picture of her as I will always remember  her– with a book in her hand and a smile on her face!

Jo Beverley


So…Why Did I Write a Graphic Novel? A guest post by Judith Whitmore

Judith and I share a love of the Shakespeare plays, so I was excited to hear about her graphic novel based around Romeo and Juliet. Here’s her account of her book:

I was not a big Shakespeare fan in high school.  The Elizabethan language was difficult to wade through, and besides, I was young and living life in the fast lane…sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll.  Okay, just kidding about the sex and drugs, but there was lots of rock ‘n roll.  It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I gained an appreciation for Shakespeare’s amazing abilities as a storyteller.

I was working in London at that time.  A friend invited me to dinner and the theater to see The Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Merry Wives of Windsor.  I knew dinner would be nice, and then I could sleep at the theater.  Well, to my utter amazement I was enthralled with the production.  First, there were no Renaissance costumes or sets.  This show was set in the1950’s with fabulous set decoration and costumes from that era.  Second, even though I may not have understood every single line of dialogue, I understood enough to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot and the humor.  I was hooked, and I did everything I could to get my children interested in Shakespeare.

Fast forward twenty years…I was still lamenting the fact my kids thought Shakespeare was boring when inspiration struck.  What if the stories were told in modern language that kids could understand!  I had a mission!


The Process of Writing a Graphic Novel

Taking Romeo and Juliet from a full-length play to a graphic novel required distilling the dialogue and narration into as few words as possible without losing any of the storyline.  This was the most difficult part of the project and required the expert skills of my husband who had been an editor.  We went scene by scene,    creating new dialogue and reading it aloud to see how it sounded.   It took about four months to come up with a first draft of the dialogue.

I have been in a writing group for years with excellent writers and editors, so each week I took the scene we were working on to my writing group for their critique.  I also asked my niece and nephew who were in high school to read the manuscript.  Who better than teenagers to help with modernizing the language? The next step was combining lines of dialogue into conversations which could be represented by one drawing.

judith romeo and juliet

Judith Whitmire’s Romeo and Juliet Graphic Novel Cover

At this point we needed an illustrator.  I contacted my friend Mark Bennett, who had recently retired from the art department at CBS, and asked if he would be interested in doing the illustration for this project.  He is immensely talented so my husband and I were thrilled when he agreed.  Mark created drawings for each dialogue group.  With a computer program, he inserted our dialogue into the drawings.   Once again I took the whole manuscript to my writing group for critique.  The computer program made it easy to edit the dialogue as necessary.

The cover art for Romeo and Juliet is a combination of original artwork from Mark Bennet combined with the work of a graphic artist from Flying Pig Media.  Kristin Lindstrom, who owns and operates Flying Pig Media, prepared the Romeo and Juliet manuscript to be uploaded at CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle.  Technical issues arose when uploading the drawings to Amazon, so I was relieved to have Kristin handling those details.

We are thrilled to be able to bring Shakespeare’s most famous tale to a new generation of readers.

You can find Judith’s graphic novel at Amazon:

Paperback –

Kindle –

Judith Whitmore is the best-selling author of the romantic-adventure
Come Fly with Me, a cookbook All Time Favorite Recipes, and Romeo and Juliet
Reimagined, an illustrated account of Shakespeare’s story co-authored with
her husband Wes Whitmore.
During Judith’s seven-year term as President of American Theater
Company in Aspen, ATC presented shows starring Julie Harris, Hal Holbrook,
Vincent Price, Shawn Cassidy, John Travolta and Charles Durning. Judith
later produced the musical Taking a Chance on Love in Los Angeles, followed
by the London production of Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town which she
Judith has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, is a licensed
Marriage and Family Therapist, and is also a licensed Commercial Pilot with
a Learjet type-rating. Since 2003, she has been a regular volunteer makeup
artist at the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters.
During college, Judith sang background vocals for Capitol Records
and performed with a band in San Francisco. She never forgot the thrill of
performing, and several years ago she and two friends formed the trio, ACT
THREE. ACT THREE has performed concerts in California, Arizona, and last
year at UC Irvine and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Their first album will be
released this summer. All proceeds from ACT THREE performances are donated
to charities.

Visit Judith at:

The Death of Princess Charlotte, a guest post by Jo Beverley

The death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in November 1817 was a huge event


Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales and Leopold

in Regency times and it’s key to for my April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, and for the one I’m writing now for 2017, Merely a Marriage.

I write my Company of Rogues books along a time line that started in 1814, and though I’ve gone slowly I’ve always wondered how to handle Charlotte’s death.

It could hardly be background wallpaper, especially as the effects lingered well into 1818.

People sometimes think that death in childbirth was common in the past. It was more common than now, but not so much so that the death of a young, healthy woman and her baby was taken in stride. The nation was plunged into a genuine and almost manic mourning that bears some resemblance to the reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Cruel nature was clearly the prime villain, but Queen Charlotte was blamed as well, for not supervising the birth. The poor woman was in her seventies and not well, but she was castigated for not rushing from Bath to the birth. Remember, however, that no one expected anything other than a normal, healthy birth. Why the grandmother, not the mother? Charlotte’s mother, Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Regent, was living in Italy. And in any case, if she’d travelled to England she probably wouldn’t have been allowed near her daughter, as that had been the Regent’s policy from the first.

Th Regent was given some unspecified blame, but he was a man and childbirth wasn’t men’s business. Except for doctors, and man-midwives.

Charlotte was attended in the later months by two prominent and fashionable “man-midwives” and they were generally blamed, though it seems that the baby was in a bad position for birth, which is no one’s fault. Today, Charlotte would have had a C-section and all would have been well. As it was, she laboured for days and did eventually deliver a dead son. At that point Charlotte was not expected to die, but perhaps exhaustion played a part, or there might have been a lot of blood loss. Of course, there were no blood transfusions then, and if there had been, without blood type matching, it would have been perilous.

The men — the husband Prince Leopold, and the father, the Regent — benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy, which the Regent certainly needed, as he’d become increasingly unpopular during the post-war depression.

The general and republican-minded unrest, subsided under the pressure of mourning. Court mourning plunged the aristocracy into black, and nearly everyone in the nation wore sober colors, black arm bands and similar signs of grief. Not to do so was to declare oneself a Republican, but also a heartless person, because this was a tragedy, royal or not.

Despittvnawnewsm3e the tone of Regency fiction, men in the Regency were allowed and expected to give in to their emotions. Leopold stayed with the coffin between Charlotte’s death on November 6th and her state funeral on the 19th. The Regent fled to Brighton, supposedly in an emotional collapse. This annoyed his ministers, as all government staggered to a halt without him. As he lingered there, worry increased that he might follow his father into insanity.

Difficult times, and against this backdrop, widowed Mrs. Kitty Cateril realizes that life is chancy and she shouldn’t waste it.When she’s offered a chance at a peculiar marriage of convenience, she takes it.

The Viscount Needs a Wife is a Romantic Times Top Pick and has a starred review
from the Library Journal. “…combining graceful writing, and impeccably researched historical setting, and intelligent, well-matched protagonists into a superbly satisfying love story.” It will be on sale in print and e-book on April 5th.Tdyalmodsm2

Jo is offering the prize of a copy of her book Too Dangerous For a Lady to a commenter. Leave a comment, and I’ll enter you into the raffle!  Thanks, Jo.

Read more about Jo’s April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife.

Paving the Way for Women Writers: Aphra Behn, 1640 – 1689 Guest post by Ruth Nestvold

  • Paving the Way for Women Writers: Aphra Behn, 1640 – 1689

    “All woman together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is most scandalously but rather appropriately in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she – shady and amorous as she was – who makes it not quite fantastic to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”     –Virginia Woolf


Aphra_Behn_by_Mary_BealeImagine there was a young Englishwoman in the 17th Century who went with her family to the colony of Surinam in South America. When she returned to England, she was hired by the Crown as a spy and sent to the Netherlands. After incurring debt there — because the English government didn’t pay her the money owed her for her services — she was sent to debtor’s prison. Once she was bailed out, she wrote and produced comedies (and one tragedy) for the London theater, becoming the first professional woman writer in English literature.



Portrait of Aphra Behn by Mary Beale

It sounds like the kind of adventure fiction most people would dismiss as being much too unlikely, doesn’t it? But much of this biography is documented through letters, not to mention Aphra Behn’s own work. Not only that, Aphra Behn achieved all this without being a member of the nobility. She may or may not have come from a “gently born” family that fell upon hard times, but either way, she was not born privileged. Most of the women writers of the 17th Century were from the nobility, and they wrote for their amusement and that of their friends and family, their oeuvre remaining small and genteel. By contrast, Aphra wrote for a living. Since it was her main, and perhaps only, source of income, she adapted to the tastes and the times. She wrote racy comedies in the style of her male contemporaries. When times grew hard for the playhouses in London, she reacted and began to write and publish prose fiction — a genre that was so new, in the 18th century it started being referred to as the “novel” (from the Italian “novella” for new or news).

She achieved all of this in an era when women had few rights. They were subject to their fathers, and then their husbands. But Aphra Behn was a widow, and as such, in control of her own property, free to make her own decisions.

The status of women was changing in the 17th Century, but it was a slow process. One of the most important changes for the emergence of Aphra Behn as a writer was that the theaters were opened up to actresses. After the Restoration in 1660, Charles II decreed that women would be able to take the stage. Before that, female roles were played by men. Many of the new actresses were women who intentionally used their position to find “protectors” among members of the nobility, such as Nell Gwyn, who became the mistress of Charles II. But others became involved in the business of the theater. Mrs. Betterton helped manage the highly successful Duke’s Company with her husband, Thomas Betterton, training younger actresses like Anne Bracegirdle.

Aphra Behn, never an actress, may have possibly made her way into the world of Restoration theater through family connections. Even working within the constraints of the Restoration’s male dominated society, Behn managed to create strong, independent female characters who made their own choices. Over the course of her nineteen year career, Behn wrote over twenty plays, as well as several novels and volumes of poetry.

While she wrote to please, since she had to in order to make a living, at the same time she staunchly defended her art in one of her more more memorable forewords to her play “The Lucky Chance”:

    “…I am not content to write for a Third Day only. I value Fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful World, and scorn its fickle Favours.”

Aphra Behn died in 1689 at the age of only 48. She was famous and celebrated at the time; Daniel Defoe, a pioneer in the novel and author of Robinson Crusoe, even called her “one of the giants of wit and sense.” But her fame was not to last. By the middle of the 18th Century, her reputation had dwindled to that of a lewd writer of pornographic works little better than Fanny Hill.




Inscription: “Here lies proof that wit can never be, defense enough against mortality.”

I first came across mention of Aphra Behn when I was a graduate research assistant working on my MA in English Literature — and was immediately fascinated. In my dissertation on the use of the female perspective in the novel, I included a chapter on Behn’s novel Oroonoko. If I had remained in academia, I’m sure I would have ended up writing many more articles on Aphra Behn. But I didn’t, so instead I wrote a novel.

In Chameleon in a Mirror, the main character is sent back in time to the 17th Century, where she gets to meet her (and my) idol, Aphra Behn. This gives her a chance to rehabilitate Aphra’s literary reputation. Even though we are not supposed to have causes in our fiction, I have to admit I hope that with Chameleon in a Mirror, I just might be able to do that a little bit myself.

To find out more about Aphra, you can visit my site on her, the Aphra Behn Page.

Ruth Nestvold has published widely in science fiction and fantasy, her fiction appearing in such markets as Asimov’s, F&SF, Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her work has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree, and Sturgeon Awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella “Looking Through Lace” won the “Premio Italia” award for best international work. Since 2012, she’s been concentrating her efforts on self-publishing rather than traditional publishing, although she does still occasionally sell a story the old-fashioned way.

Valentine Traditions: A Guest Post by Heidi Ashworth

Love letters have been written since ink was first put to paper.. However, billet-doux were not referred to as valentines until the early 1400’s when the Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, wrote a poem to his wife.  Sadly, she died before he was released from captivity, but the tales of his passion lived on..


The Tower of London circa 2015..  The blue cupolas were added on Henry the Eighth’s orders in honor of Anne Boleyn’s coronation..  Pretty romantic..


 Ever since, love letters and cards exchanged on the 14th of February were commonly referred to as Valentines in honor of the man (or one of them–see history on the plethora of St.. Valentines, HERE) who wrote a love letter to his jailor’s beautiful, blind daughter, prompting one to wonder how she could possibly read it with any sense of privacy..  But I digress.

The making and writing of Valentine’s Day cards thereafter became a tradition.  The wealthy could afford manufactured cards, some of which date from as early as the 1700s.  Factory workers painted color onto black-and-white images, leaving the composition of the words up to the giver of the card.  However, it would be hundreds of years before the mass production of cards created a market for Valentines amongst all walks of life.

During the Regency era, most cards were still handmade.  As such, not many survived..  However, there are quite a few examples of a special card known as the puzzle purse, perhaps because they were so much work for the creator that they were cherished in ways that a simple letter was not.

This photo shows the back of a puzzle purse that is preserved at the British Postal Museum in London.


There are many stanzas of poetry found on this card, one of which very cleverly reads:
My dearest dear and blest divine
I’ve pictured here thy heart and mine
But Cupid with his fatal dart
hath deeply wounded my poor heart
And has betwixt us set a cross
makes me lament my loss
But now I hope when this is gone

That our two hearts will join in one.

Once the paper is unfolded, the cross (it’s actually an X) that bisects the heart is gone and the lover’s hearts, drawn together on the inside of the page, come together..  To view the front of this card and read the rest of the poetry, click HERE.

This puzzle purse, dated February 14th, 1816, is quite beautifully illustrated.  The current owner, an avid collector, has baptismal certificates that are folded in the same manner..  You can read more about this particular card and learn how to make your own puzzle purse via these instructions.


These elegantly written cards differ from most ordinary letters during this time period.  Due to the exorbitant cost of delivery, people “crossed” their letters, meaning that they wrote across the page horizontally, then turned it and wrote across it vertically, sometimes even turning it to write across the letter diagonally.  You can see a replicated example of a crossed letter here.

Though there is no evidence that the men and women who peopled the Regency era held parties for Valentine’s Day, they did enjoy some rather romantic parlor games throughout the year.  Kissing games were quite popular, a fact that might come as a surprise to those who think of the 19thC as an era of utter moral rectitude.   You can read about these games on this  blog post, complete with a delightful period illustration.

As with many holiday traditions we enjoy today, the tradition of sending mass amounts of Valentine cards through the mail dates to the Victorian era..  This was made possible by the decreasing cost of postage and printing..  However, it wasn’t until later that Valentines were no longer confined to sweethearts and were given to friends, siblings, parents and teachers..  Today, Valentine cards are the second most widely mailed cards in the U.S., second only to Christmas cards.
My latest release is one of three stories that makes up the anthology, A Midwinter Ball..  Each of the stories takes place around Valentine’s Day..  It is filled with romantic balls, dashing heroes and strong heroines.

From the publisher of the #1 Amazon bestselling A Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean Romance..  Join three bestselling regency romance authors, Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, and Michele Paige Holmes, for three new Regency romance novellas in A MIDWINTER BALL.


The cover photo for this book was taken at a recent Jane Austen Festival in Bath and depicts a very accurate reproduction Regency-era gown.
 The printed shawl, the elbow-length gloves, the small train of her gown, are all picture-perfect Regency..

Whatever your Valentine’s celebrations entail this year, they are part of a very long tradition of love all around the world, including that highly romantic time period and place known as The Regency.

Heidi Ashworth is the author of numerous Regency romances, including the popular Miss Delacourt series..  She is a wife and mother who enjoys working in the garden, documenting her travels to Ireland, England and Scotland on her blog, the process of transforming her 1970’s California bungalow into an English country cottage, and eating chocolate..  You can learn more about her Regency romances on her Amazon page and website, read about her travels, her romantic home decor, her roses and her experiences as mom to a special needs child, on her blog, Dunhaven Place..  You can follow her on GoodreadsFBPinterest , and Twitter @AshworthHeidi..

A Stone Circle and an Imaginary Village: A guest post by Mary Reed

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.The Guardian Stones cover

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
Guardian Stones.”


The King’s Men stone circle, Rollright Stones

swinside stone circle

Swinside Stone Circle

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
Circle round
Unholy ground
The Guardians dwell
In deepest hell
Don’t go alone
Inside the stones
That surmount still  
Guardians Hill

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.

First Feminist and Amateur Sleuth: Guest Post about Mary Wollstonecraft by Nancy Means Wright


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 wcover Midnight Firesith 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.” Nightmare cover 180x278

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 Wild Nights cover for ebookplacenta 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


New Year, Old House: Guest Post by Carola Dunn


Cotehele Entrance

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.

Courtyard at Cotehele small

Cotehele Courtyard

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 diMistletoe hcdn’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.]Mistletoe audio

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 nerobin@Cotehelext 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: and find her on Facebook.

cotehele house map

Guest post: Why Wales? by Judy Hogan

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Three Cliffs Bay by permission of the City and County of Swansea.


Why Wales? Guest post by Judy Hogan
     The very first mystery I wrote takes place on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea.  The first time I went abroad, in 1991, I read up on guest houses in Wales and Scotland. One in central Wales (Llandovery) was willing to reduce my room and board if I helped out. I went there for four weeks.  Another, on the Gower Peninsula, offered a very inexpensive B&B rate, so I went there for one weekend and loved it.  As soon as I entered Wales by train and saw its hills and valleys, much wilder than in England, I knew I’d write poetry there, and I did.
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Oxwich Point photo by John Ewing


     Year after year, when I could leave for a summer writing vacation, I returned to Mrs. Merrett’s Bed and Breakfast in Southgate, the Pennard area, of Gower.  My visits got longer, three, even four weeks.  A great variety of scenery was within walking distance, or a short bus ride away: Norman castles, caves that went back 33,000 years (Paviland), monuments from the stone age (Arthur’s stone), myths and legends, traces of the Vikings in the names for towns and natural formations: Swan’s Eye (Swansea), Worm’s Head (Dragon Head), Port Eynon.  There were lovely wild flowers, tide pools, relentless wind and waves crashing against the cliffs.  Human beings had lived on Gower through the Ice Age, back 230,000 years ago. I always wrote poetry.
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Photo of Rhossili from Worm’s Head by John Ewing

wales map

     In 1990, I sprained my ankle and couldn’t spend my days ranging the cliffs and studying the wild flowers or following old footpaths. Mrs. Merrett, who knew i liked to read mysteries (the small library had a good collection), said, “Judy, why don’t you write a murder?”  So I began to plot one.
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Photo of Penard Castle ruins at sunset.  By John Ewing

     The next summer, I wrote The Sands of Gower.  I didn’t know anything about the mystery sub-genres.  I loved Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, Marjorie Allingham. What I wrote, I later learned, was a traditional mystery, but it had more sex in it than was strictly proper.  It was also too long, and it was more of a Golden Age cozy than what these days (craft shop cozies) goes by the name.  I liked it when the detectives sat down to consult over a pot of tea with scones or crumpets.  I’d found digestive biscuits, too, in the U.K. and I loved them.  In fact I’d been more drawn to the British Isles by what the detectives had for tea than because of Shakespeare et al.
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The Cleft of Three Cliffs–photo–by John Ewing

    Then I got hooked on writing mysteries, and have now written fifteen, only three of which have been published (#6 Killer Frost, and #7 (Farm Fresh and Fatal) in 2012 and 2013.  Now I’ve gone back to the first one, much revised, but still erotic, and with that old-fashioned puzzle of who killed that difficult German lady visitor.
     My last visit to Gower was in 1996, but in the last mystery I set there in 2013 (the thirteenth written), I used the internet a lot.  Gower now attracts more tourists and has become more expensive, but its beauties and variety of landscapes continues.
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Photo of 3 cliffs at sunset by John Ewing


Plot of The Sands of Gower
    Penny begins a new and lively stage of life, her children raised, with a powerful erotic attraction, and the freedom to cross lines that usually hold people apart.
    The Sands of Gower is set in a bed-and-breakfast on the Gower peninsula near Swansea, Wales.  Penny Weaver, luxuriating in her two-month vacation, is disturbed by the murder of a German guest.  Penny’s independent, outspoken American lifestyle contrasts with the more conservative ways of the village’s pensioners.  In the process of solving the crime, Penny and Detective Inspector Kenneth Morgan are powerfully attracted.  This, plus the British post-World War II continuing distrust of the Germans, complicates their investigation.
Buy links:  The Sands of Gower
Judy Hogan, PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559. $19 for signed copy, tax, and shipping.

Photo of Judy Hogan by Margie Ribble


     Judy Hogan’s first two mystery novels, Killer Frost (2012) and Farm Fresh and Fatal (2013) were published by Mainly Murder Press in CT.  Judy founded Carolina Wren Press (1976-91) and was co-editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal (1970-81).  She has published six volumes of poetry and two prose works with small presses. She has taught all forms of creative writing since 1974. In 1983, she helped found the North Carolina Writers’ Network and served as its first president (1984-7).  She joined Sisters in Crime in 2007 and has focused on writing and publishing traditional mystery novels.  In 2011, she was a finalist in the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Mystery contest for Killer Frost. In 2015, she decided to set up Hoganvillaea Books, her own publishing imprint, in order to publish more of her mysteries. The Sands of Gower: The First Penny Weaver Mystery is her first release under this new imprint. Her Penny Weaver series takes up community issues.  Most of the novels take place in central North Carolina fictional village of Riverdell, but three take place on the Gower Peninsula in Wales where Penny meets and falls in love with Kenneth Morgan, a Welsh Detective Inspector.
     The twists and turns of Hogan’s life’s path over the years have given her plenty to write about.  She is also a small farmer, a community activist, and lives in Moncure, N.C., near Jordan Lake.
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The Sands of Gower: The First Penny Weaver Mystery (12-1-2015)
Killer Frost (2012), Farm Fresh and Fatal (2013) & This River: An Epic Love Poem (2014)