Britain and its parts

now browsing by category


The Scottish Diamond, a guest post by Helena Fairfax

Helena writes about one of the most beautiful sites in Britain– Edinburgh Castle. She sent me several photos I’m going to put in the Gallery! Thanks, Helena!

Helena Fairfax – The Scottish Diamond

The first time I ever visited Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, I knew the city had something unique about it from the moment I stepped out of the train station and onto the bustling thoroughfare that is Princes Street. A man in a kilt was playing the bagpipes in front of one of the dark stone Victorian buildings, and at the top of the street, perched on a volcanic crag and dominating the skyline, was the ancient fortress of Edinburgh Castle. It was a magnificent and unforgettable sight.


edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle


Edinburgh has been at the centre of some thrilling and dramatic events in history. In the fourteenth century, for example, the Castle was captured by the English, and Robert the Bruce’s nephew recaptured it through the daring feat of climbing its steep and craggy sides in the dead of night.


In the sixteenth century, the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots – half-sister and rival to Queen Elizabeth I – came to stay in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace. For several years she held balls and entertained dignitaries in the Palace, and she married her two husbands in the Palace’s state rooms. Then her private secretary David Rizzio was brutally murdered there, and Mary’s life was threatened by supporters of Elizabeth, and her brief life of happiness came to an end. After many years in prison, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason.

Today, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence in Scotland of Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors can tour the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots lived, including her bedchamber and the tiny supper room where Rizzio was dragged away to his death. (I’ve done the tour myself, and I found the bloody history a very oppressive experience!)


Edinburgh Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh Holyrood Palace


In the eighteenth century came one of the most famous periods in Scottish history – the Jacobite revolution. This was when the Highland clans joined forces under Bonnie Prince Charlie to fight the English and regain the throne for the exiled House of Stuart. The uprising came to a bloody end, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his supporters were forced to flee.


You’ll have guessed by now that this beautiful and unique city is the perfect setting for mystery and romance. My latest romantic suspense novella, The Scottish Diamond, is set in the present day, but the Scottish Diamond of the title belongs to the fictional aristocratic Falmire family. In 1745, Lord Falmire fought in the Jacobite revolution, and was forced to flee to my fictional Mediterranean country of Montverrier, taking the diamond with him. While in Montverrier, he plays cards with the Montverrian prince, and… Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the story to find out what happens to the diamond next!

Edinburgh skyline

Edinburgh skyline

The Scottish Diamond was great fun to write, and the Edinburgh setting added enormously to the mystery and romance of the tale.



What do you do when nothing is what it seems…even the man you love?
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair…”  When Lizzie Smith starts rehearsing Macbeth with her theatre group in Edinburgh, she’s convinced the witches’ spells are the cause of a run of terrible luck. Lizzie’s bodyguard boyfriend, Léon, is mysteriously turned down for every job he applies for, until he’s finally offered the job of guarding “The Scottish Diamond,” a fabulous jewel from the country of Montverrier.
But the diamond’s previous guard has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Scottish Diamond has a history of intrigue and bloody murder, and Lizzie is plagued by nightmares in which Macbeth’s witches are warning her of danger.
Then Lizzie discovers she’s being followed through the streets of Edinburgh, and it seems her worst fears are about to be realised…

The Scottish Diamond 200x300

And here’s an extract to whet your appetite:


I continued to frown up at him, troubled. He took my face in his hands and kissed me.

‘I know what it is,’ he said, his eyes twinkling. ‘It’s all your talk of witches and ghosts. Your Scottish superstitions are rubbing off on me and I’m seeing things in this gloomy weather that aren’t there at all.’

He swung me into his arms and kissed me again.

After that, Léon dismissed his vigilance as something brought on by the strangeness of his new city. And once he began his new job at the Castle, he didn’t mention being followed again, and in fact, all the tension he’d been showing disappeared, and he became almost his old self. He left the house with a sense of purpose that had been lacking in his previous aimless wanderings around Edinburgh. And the best thing was, he was beginning to understand more and more of our Scottish brogue every day.

I later discovered it wasn’t just our Scottish way of speaking he was mastering. A few days after he started work, I was in the kitchen preparing our evening meal, when I heard the front door close and Léon’s light tread in the hall. Usually he went straight upstairs to change, but this evening he came directly to the kitchen and put his head round the door. His eyes brimmed with amusement.

I stepped closer to give him a kiss, and he pushed the door wide. My mouth fell open. He was dressed in a kilt. The green tartan cloth was thrown over one broad shoulder in Highland fashion, and the pleated skirt revealed an inch or two of tanned, muscular leg above a pair of thick, cream-coloured socks.

‘Wow,’ I stuttered. ‘You look…’ I breathed out in a long whistle. ‘You look amazing.’

He smiled broadly, showing his white, even teeth in one of the first real smiles I’d seen him give since we left Europe.

‘This is my new uniform.’ He spread his arms a little, glancing down at himself. ‘Not a bad effort for a half-Italian, half-Montverrian. What do you think?’

‘Not bad at all.’ My face decided right then and there to turn a decided pink, and to hide the fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, I threw my arms around his neck and planted a kiss below his ear.

His arms encircled me, and he murmured, ‘Ever made love to a man in a kilt?’

And after that, everything between us was perfect again. All my worries about Léon wanting to go home to Italy, and all his former tension vanished, and we were just as we had been during those idyllic two weeks we’d spent at his home on the Amalfi coast that summer.

But of course, perfect times can’t last forever. Everything changed when I realised it wasn’t Léon who was being followed. It was me.

The Scottish Diamond is available on Amazon

Author Bio
Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her first novel, The Silk Romance, was a contender for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award and a runner-up in the Global Ebook Awards. Helena Fairfax was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize in 2014.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena Fairfax photo

Helena Fairfax

* * *
Social Media Links

 If you’d like to get in touch, or find out more about my books, writing, and photos of my settings or the Yorkshire moors where I live, please follow my newsletter by subscribing here:


All new subscribers to my newsletter will receive a FREE copy of Palace of Deception – a romantic suspense novella

You can also visit me on my website at, or on Facebook, or Twitter


* * *

Thanks so much for having me today, Alicia! It’s been fun revisiting Edinburgh and its bloody history. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post!


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.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Brighton Pavilion: Britain’s Own Kubla Khan

by Alicia Rasley

(My Tryst at the Brighton Inn is set outside Brighton. In fact, Natasha is on her way to Prinny’s birthday picnic at the Pavilion when she gets caught up in a murder.)

In 1786 George, Prince of Wales was 24 and newly married, illicitly, to his great love Mrs. Fitzherbert. He was also deeply in debt, hundreds of thousands of pounds owed for jewelry, horses, and especially his beautiful London home, Carlton House.  When the stress in the capital got too much, he would retreat to a farmhouse he owned in the seaside town of Brighton.

But this was the time leading up to that astonishingly creative period known to most of the world as “the Romantic era,” though most of us would call it the Regency. And this was the future Prince Regent, “The Prince of Pleasure.” A simple farmhouse wouldn’t satisfy his extravagant nature and luxurious tastes for long. So soon he hired the fashionable architect Henry Holland, who started adding to the farmhouse. And adding. And adding. Holland designed the first of the great buildings, the Marine Pavilion, in the clean neo-classical style Prinny favored. One of the special features Holland provided for his royal patron was a tunnel to the nearby home of Mrs. Fitzherbert, still the secret wife.

brighton pavilion



The Marine Pavilion in 1787

For most of the next decade, Prinny contented himself with furnishing the pavilion, spending thousands on art, fixtures, and draperies. This was hardly his only extravagance, but it was a major contributor to the impossibly large debt that he’d accrued by 1795. In fact, in return for Parliament paying off his debt, he was forced into a bigamous marriage with his German cousin Caroline. He could be forgiven, perhaps for later wondering if it was worth it, because his was one of the worst marriages of all time.

Once freed of his crushing debt, Prinny felt up to spending again. But few of us would argue with his choices. For example, one of his early decisions was to put a couple water closets in the main building, for those special guests who weren’t up to battling the sea breeze to get to the outdoor privies. He kept (this will not surprise you) three confectioners on his Brighton kitchen staff, and brought Holland back to create a special confectionery in the kitchens.


The Grand Saloon, where the Regent entertained guests, changed occasionally to show the particular trends in high-priced depavilion grand salooncorating. The room was remodelled in the late 1790s by the artist Biagio Rebecca, painted in dramatic colors with gilt-framing. While he did use some French artisans and artists, in the time of war, Prinny tried to be patriotic. Much of the furniture was built by such great British cabinetmakers as Chippendale and Seddon. (The “sociable” circular couch in the middle of the room is probably from a later period, as it appears in a print that pictured the room in early Victorian times.)

Fortunately, the prince’s taste wasn’t confined to European. A gift of some Chinese wallpaper  inspired the prince, and he conjured up a manically oriental design for the main rooms of the Pavilion. Biographer J.B. Priestley describes one feature, “Along the southern wing was an astonishing Chinese passage of painted glass, decorated with flower, insects, fruits and birds, and illuminated form the outside, so that guest could easily imagine they were passing through an immense Chinese lantern.”

By the turn of the century, Prinny turned his attention to the outbuildings, commissioning a new stable and a riding school. Even he was taken aback at the elegance of the resulting buildings, admitting that his horses were being “housed in a palace.”  In fact, the new additions posed a pair of problems. The facades were in an Indian style, clashing with the more classical house, and also, with a 65-foot high cupola, the stable outshone Prinny’s own home. This could not, of course, be borne.

Much of the time before his Regency were spent hiring and firing architects. First he hired Humphry Repton, primarily a landscape architect, submitted plans to unify the house and gardens with an Indian theme. Prinny declared this a “perfect” design, but Parliament didn’t agree, or at least didn’t agree to finance it. By the time he had the blunt, he’d moved on from the “mogul trend” and he reached out to a new architect, James Wyatt, to make his Gothic dreams come true. Imagine a neo-Gothic monstrosity rising out of the South Coast landscape! Well, you’ll have to imagine it, for before he could break ground, James Wyatt was killed, and Prinny had to search for new inspiration.  It took years after Prinny became Regent, but finally he turned to John Nash, who was a known quantity, having already remodeled Carlton House. (He had also once been a student of Repton’s, who could not have been pleased to be set aside this way.) Nash got to work, and by 1815, he had expanded the Pavilion and unified its exterior into a vaguely Indian shape.

Nash used the Pavilion as an opportunity to experiment. After all, the nation was paying the shot! He used cast iron to strengthen the walls and pillars while still creating an illusion of Oriental fragility in the minarets and domes. He built new kitchens and heated them with steam. The queen mother was so impressed by all this, she gave her reckless son fifty thousand pounds, some of which went to creating State Apartments suitable to host the Prince, the Queen, and other royalty.

For the rest of his Regency, and during his own reign, Prinny used the Brighton Pavilion both as a canvas for his creativity, and as a retreat from the barrage of criticism he faced in London. As author Victoria Hinshaw remarks, the Pavilion’s “constantly changing architecture and decoration reflect the restless personality of George IV.” He frequently summered there, and was engaged in constant improvements to the house and grounds. Even so early, the Pavilion was something of a tourist attraction, rising up on the edge of town like a vision of Kubla Khan’s palace.

nash designed pavilion brighton




The Nash-designed Pavilion


Royal sea-towns were nothing new. For example, Prinny’s father had made Weymouth to the west a popular escape. But Brighton was special, only a day trip from London, and even then possessing a raffishly louche mien that would have appealed to the fun-loving prince. There’s no doubt, though, that without the Pavilion, Brighton would be just another beach town. Instead, it became a fashionable watering-hole, and many nobles made the trip down in order to attend one of the Regent’s elaborate parties.

After he became king in 1820, Prinny continued to host admirers at the Pavilion, until poor health kept him confined mostly to London.

After he died, his brother William IV also came to use the Pavilion as a refuge, for as a sailor in his youth, he had affection for the sea-vistas. He and his queen became known for their informal get-togethers especially in the summers. The continuing royal patronage turned Brighton from a small town to one of southern England’s major cities, with more the 40,000 residents in 1831.

But his successor didn’t regard Brighton so fondly. Queen Victoria, Hinshaw reports, didn’t like the house. The decadent Pavilion couldn’t help but remind the prim new queen of her pleasure-obsessed uncle, and as her family grew, she found little use for this holiday home.  But she treasured it enough to let it stand, and in 1850 she sold it to the city of Brighton.  First, however, she stripped much of its elaborate furnishings; most of these have been returned, but some are still to be found in Buckingham Palace.

Soon the city reopened it as a showplace, charging a sixpence to the tourists to ogle the garish yet oddly tasteful rooms. Several times in the next century, the Pavilion was remodeled, once to turn it into a hospital for victims of the Great War. Though it must have posed an inviting target to the Luftwaffe, the Pavilion survived World War II and was extensively renovated during the post-war period. The renovators this time consulted period guidebooks and sketches as they tried to return the house to the one of Prinny’s vision. The house was almost finished when an arson in 1975 almost destroyed the Music Room. Author Leslie Carroll remembers visiting years later and finding that part of the house was still closed for repair. The Music Room was barely reopened when the epic storm of 1987 dislodged a stone from the minaret and once again damaged the salon.

However, private donations and contributions from the local and federal government have funded a massive renovation, and the Pavilion is now restored to its former glory.  To tide us over until we can all take a road trip and see it in person, here is a 9-part (!) class about Brighton Pavilion from the Open University:

This is a great multimedia experience, with color plates, floorplans, and snippets of the sort of music Prinny would commission for his parties.

The Brighton Pavilion is, above all, an experience, onr that manifests the extravagant and romantic Regency period, and recalls the Prince who remains the most poignant symbol of that time. As the OU concludes, “The Pavilion itself has been called silly, charming, witty, light-hearted, extravagant, gloriously eccentric, decadent, childish, painfully vulgar, socially irresponsible, a piece of outrageous folly and a stylistic phantasmagoria. Whatever you decide about it, it has always been, beyond all dispute, an astonishing flight of the Romantic fancy.”

For a quick look at the Pavilion, author Ashley Kath-Bilsky suggests the videos made by the Brighton Museum, narrated by Andrew Barlow, the former Keeper of the Royal Pavilion at “He gives some interesting back-story to the history of the Pavilion, i.e., the wood and wrought iron that was made to look like bamboo, or the 16 x 10 foot marble  bathtub that could hold 6,000 gallons of fresh or salt water.”

Brighton and Hove.

Dale, Antony. Fashionable Brighton. London: Oriel Press, 1947.

The Marine Pavilion. Georgian Net.

About the author: Alicia Rasley is a RITA-award winning Regency writer who tries to visit England twice a year. (In her dreams….) New book set near Brighton!


Check out the Amazon page for Regencies by Rasley.

v     Rakish heroes.

v     Reckless heroines.

v     Elegant stories.

Tracking the hero’s journey in Heyer’s books

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!,-0.4208967,11.5z


sprig muslin map

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!

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.

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

judy book cover

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.
Oxwich point-from Great Tor-5-1-12

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.
RhossilBay From WormsHead--waves-5-1-12

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.
PennardCastle--up close-sunset-5-1-12

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.
ThreeCliffs --through cleft--5-1-12

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.
Three Cliffs Bay-sunset on sand-5-1-12

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.
Judy Hoganjudy book cover
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)