Tag Archives: England

What a Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful World by Sherrie Hansen

There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

england-lamb

Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

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Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

SW 76

In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

Romania - Castle

This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

airbnb-cardigan-wales

We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

airbnb-capel-curig-wales

From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the month. Perfect timing!

airbnb-kingscourt-ireland

Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

airbnb-plas-bodegroes-llyn-peninsula-nw-wales

On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

airbnb-sheep

Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

airbnb-durweston-uk

Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

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Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

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It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

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I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my quick travel preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat.

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Medieval Brass Rubbings

Being a romantic, I’ve always had an affinity for the Medieval through Renaissance periods of Britain; roughly between the 5th–17th centuries. Some really beautiful artwork can be found in catacombs and tombs in churches and abbeys, particularly in England, in the form of monumental brasses, which memorialize burials of important people of the day. Brass plates were often etched in effigies of the deceased and sometimes included relatives, pets, armor, status, even occupation of the individual. For historical or artistic value, many people have sought to copy some of these brasses onto paper. I decided I’d like to do that too.

Medieval brasses date back to as early as 1015 AD, I was told, but most of the ones that have survived through the ages are from the 14th century on up to the present day. Many were lost during the Bubonic Plague or Black Death beginning in 1347 AD, building and reconstruction projects, and destruction from wars throughout Europe. Although, the largest collections of brasses are in England, others can be found on the Continent.

Much information can be gleaned from these brasses, such as style and fashion, occupations and status, genealogy, heraldry, the history of armor and even ecclesiastical history. In fact, one could spend a lifetime studying this subject. For me, though, I was interested in learning the craft of rubbing and having a couple pieces of history in my home as mementos of my trip. I have a room with a 6½ʹ tall x 4ʹ wide medieval tapestry and I wanted a couple of brass rubbings for that room, as well.

I lived in Germany at the time and researched for several months to find brasses of the right ilk and then headed for England. Unfortunately, many of the really old brasses are not available anymore for rubbing, because they have been worn down over time, but replica brasses have been made, many of which are exact copies of the originals and are available for rubbing. There are also miniature brasses for those who don’t have time to rub a large one.

To make my rubbing, I used a special black rag paper, a gold metallic, hard wax block and a smaller pencil shaped wax tool, and masking tape to affix the paper to the brass. Many people have thought that making rubbings would be easy, just like coloring. But I can tell you, if you want a really good rubbing, it takes time and patience and sensitivity in one’s fingertips to feel through the paper to the raised areas of the design in order to know where the edges are. The weight of pressing down with the hard wax tool one uses to actually rub is tricky and the consistent direction one rubs makes for a neat and attractive finished product. Achy fingers are a given, before a brass rubbing is completed, I can assure you, but the finished product, for me, was well worth it.

I now have three framed brass rubbings. A small one, I rubbed myself, which is about 26ʺ tall x 10ʺ wide, and a pair, each 3½ʹ tall x 16ʺ wide, of Sir Roger Bellingham, d. 1544 and his wife Elizabeth, d.1500 from Kendal, Westmorland, England; my knight in shining armor and his lady.

If you are interested in learning more about brasses in England you may wish to visit The Monumental Brass Society online. My brass rubbing are below. I also have some grave stone rubbings that I made here in the U.S. Have you ever done any rubbings?

P1020390             P1020400      P1020411

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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August and Harvest Rituals

Life is lived in cycles; the cycles of life are made evident as we approach the season of reaping what has been sewn. As crops ripen, and burgeon forth with abundance people around the world prepare for the harvest. August is a month full of harvest celebrations and superstitions all over the world that have been handed down for centuries.

August 1
On this day, the Lammas Sabbat is celebrated by Wiccans and Witches throughout the world. Lammas (which is also known as Lughnasadh, August Eve, and the First Festival of Harvest) marks the start of the harvest season and is a time when the fertility aspect of the sacred union of the Goddess and Horned God is honored. The making of corn dollies (small figures fashioned from braided straw) is a centuries-old Pagan custom which is carried on by many modern Witches as part of the Lammas Sabbat rite. The corn dollies are placed on the Sabbat altar to represent the Mother Goddess who presides over the harvest. It is customary on each Lammas to make or buy a new corn dolly and then burn the old one from the past year for good luck.

On this day in the country of Macedonia, Neo-Pagans celebrate the Day of the Dryads, an annual nature festival dedicated to the maiden spirits who inhabit and rule over forests and trees.

August 2
On this day, the Feast of Anahita is celebrated in honor of the ancient Persian goddess Anahita, a deity associated with love and lunar powers.

Lady Godiva Day is celebrated annually on this date in the village of Coventry, England, with a medieval-style parade led by a nude woman on horseback.

August 3
The harvest season begins on this date in Japan with an annual festival called the Aomori Nebuta. Bamboo effigies with grotesquely painted faces are paraded through the streets in order to drive away the spirits of sleep.

August 4
Each year on this date, it was believed that the waters of Scotland’s Loch-mo-Naire became charged with miraculous magical powers to heal all who drank it or bathed in it. For many years it was a custom for those who visited Loch-mo-Naire to toss in a coin of silver as an offering to the benevolent spirits that dwelled within the lake.

August 5
Many folks still believe in this ancient superstition: if you make a secret wish wile looking up at the new moon (which normally begins on or near this date in August), your wish will be granted before the year is through.

August 6
On this date in the year 1817, a huge creature described as a sea-serpent was spotted in the ocean near Gloucester harbor in Massachusetts. Coincidentally, on this same date in the year 1948, a similar creature was seen by the crew of the British naval frigate Daedalus.

This day is sacred to the Cherokee Earth-Goddess Elihino and her sister Igaehindvo, the sacred goddess of the Sun.

August 7
In ancient Egypt, the cow-headed goddess Hathor was honored on this day by an annual festival known as Breaking the Nile. The festival, which was also dedicated to all water and river goddesses, celebrated the rising of the fertile waters of the mystical River Nile.

In ancient Greece, the annual mourning ceremony called the Adonia was held on this date in honor of the dying hero-god Adonis.

August 8
According to the Christian Church calendar, the Virgin Mary was born on this day.
The Eve of the Festival of Venus was celebrated annually on this date by the ancient Romans. On this night, the goddess of love and beauty was honored and invoked with prayers, love songs, libations, and passionate lovemaking. It was also a time when sorceresses performed all forms of love magic and marriage-mate divinations.

August 9
On this date, many Wiccans from around the world celebrate the annual Feast of the Fire Spirits. Dried mandrake root or yarrow herb is cast into fires as offerings to the Salamanders.

August 10
A centuries-old festival called Ghanta Karna Day is celebrated annually around this time of August in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal. The event celebrates the death of Ghanta Karna, a blood thirsty Hindu demon who haunts crossroads and is the sworn enemy of the god Vishnu.

August 11
On this day, an Irish fertility festival known as the Puck Fair begins. The medieval-style festival, which pays homage to the mischievous sprite Robin Goodfellow, continues for three consecutive days.

Oddudua, the “Mother of all Gods”, is honored on this day by followers of the Santeria religion in Africa and South America.

August 12
The goddess Isis and her search for Osiris (her brother and consort) is commemorated on this day by the Lychnapsia (Festival of the Lights of Isis). Dried rose petals and vervain are burned in small cauldron pots or incense burners as offerings to Isis, and green candles are lit in her honor.

August 13
On this date, the major Pagan festival of Hecate is traditionally held at moonrise. Hecate, the mysterious goddess of darkness and protectress of all Witches, is a personification of the Moon and the dark side of the female principle.

August 14
Every year on this date, a “burryman” (a man wearing a costume of thistle burrs, and representing an ancient fertility god) walks through the streets in many of the fishing villages along the coast of Scotland, collecting donations from the villagers. The origin of the burryman remains a mystery.

August 15
Festival of Vesta. The ancient Roman goddess of the hearth was honored annually on this date in ancient times. Many modern Witches light six red candles and cast herbs into hearth fires on this day to honor Vesta and to receive her blessings for family and home.

August 16
Salem Heritage Day in Massachusetts~ On this date in the year 1987, the first Harmonic Convergence as observed worldwide during the Grand Trine (the alignment of all nine planets in our solar system). The event, which lasted for two consecutive days, was believed to be the beginning of five years of peace and spiritual purification. Thousands of New Age enthusiasts gathered at various sacred sites to dance, chant, meditate, and tune into the positive energies of the Earth and the universe.

August 17
Festival of Diana. Every year on this date, the goddess of chastity, hunting, and the moon was honored by the ancient Romans. This is a special day of feasting, mirth, and magic-making for many Dianic Wiccans, since Diana is the most sacred goddess of their tradition.

On this date in the year 1950, Oglala Sioux mystic and medicine man Nicholas Black Elk died in Manderson, South Dakota. He was known for his great powers of prophecy and healing, and was an adherent of the Ghost Dance, a short-lived Native American religious movement which ended in a tragic massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1890.

August 18
On this date, the annual Festival of Hungry Ghosts is celebrated throughout China with burnt offerings to the spirits of the dead.

On this date in the year 1634, a parish priest named Father Urbain Grandier was found guilty of bewitching a group of nuns at a convent in Loudun, France, and causing them to be possessed by demons. He was condemned to be tortured and then burned alive in the public square of Saint Croix.

August 19
In ancient Rome, a wine-harvest celebration known as the Vinalia Rustica was held each year on this date. It was dedicated to the goddess Venus of the Grape Vine and also to Minerva.

On this date in the year 1692, the Reverend George Burroughs and John Willard were put to death on Salem’s infamous Gallows Hill as punishment for the crime of Witchcraft.

August 20
On this date in the year 1612, ten women and men known as the Lancashire Witches were executed on the gallows in one of England’s most famous Witch trials of the seventeenth century. Ironically, the nine-year-old girl who had supplied the court with incriminating evidence against the Witches was herself found guilty of Witchcraft twenty-two years later and executed in the second great Witch trial of Lancashire.

August 21
The Consualia, a harvest festival celebrating the storing of the new crop, was held annually on this date by the ancient Romans. Also celebrated on this date was the muscular deity Hercules, who was honored with a sacrifice at one of his shrines in the city of Rome. His annual festival was called the Heraclia.

August 22
On this date in the year 1623, the Order of the Rosy Cross (a secret sect associated with alchemy and reincarnation) was established in Paris, France. The mysterious Rosicrucian brotherhood was condemned by officials of the Church as worshipers of Satan.

This day is sacred to Nu Kwa, an ancient Chinese goddess identified with the healing goddess Kuan Yin.

August 23
The Volcanalia festival was celebrated annually on this date in ancient Rome. It was dedicated to Vulcan, the god of volcanic eruptions, and celebrated by frying fish alive to ward off accidental fires.
Each year on this date in Athens, the ancient Greeks celebrated a festival dedicated to Nemesis, the goddess who presided over the fate of all men and women.

August 24
On this date (approximately), the Sun enters the astrological sign of Virgo. Persons born under the sign of the Virgin are said to be analytical, organized, meticulous, and often prone to being perfectionists. Virgo is an earth sign and is ruled by the planet Mercury.

August 25
An annual harvest festival called the Opiconsiva was celebrated on this date in ancient Rome in honor of the fertility and success goddess Ops (Rhea). Later in the year, she was honored again at the Opalia festival on December 19 (the third day of the Saturnalia).

August 26
The periodic rebirth of the Hindu god Krishna (eighth and principal avatar of Vishnu) is celebrated by his faithful worshipers at midnight services on this date.
In the country of Finland, this is the annual Feast Day of Ilmatar (or Luonnotar), known as the Water Mother. According to mythology, she created the Earth out of chaos.

August 27
Consus, the god of the grain-store, was celebrated annually on this date by the ancient Romans. Sacrifices were made in his honor, and all beasts of burden were embellished with wreaths of flowers and given a day of rest.

The Festival of Krishna is celebrated annually on this day in the country of India. It is also a sacred day dedicated to Devaki, the Mother-Goddess.

August 28
In the country of Norway, a Pagan festival celebrating the harvest is held on this date each year.

August 29
Ancient Egyptian New Year
On this date in Nigeria, the Yoruba people celebrate the Gelede, an annual ritual of dancing and wearing of masks to drive away evil sorceresses.

In pre-Christian times, a festival called the Pardon of the Sea was celebrated annually in Britanny. It was originally dedicated to Athes, a Pagan goddess of the sea, and was later Christianized into the Feast of Saint Anne.

August 30
In Bengal, India, gruesome human sacrifices to the Indian earth-goddess Tari Pennu were made annually on this date as late as the mid-nineteenth century. After the sacrifice, a shaman would eat a bit of the victim’s flesh, and then the rest of the remains would be dismembered, burned, and scattered over a plowed field to ensure the fertility of future crops.

August 31
To purify the family spirits, Eyos (masqueraders wearing demon costumes concealed by white robes) walk through the streets of Lagos every year on this date. The Ritual Walk of the Eyos is a religious custom that dates back to ancient times.

On this date in the year 1934, Wiccan author Raymond Buckland was born in London, England. He founded the Seax-Wica tradition of Witchcraft, helped to introduce modern Wicca into the United States, and opened the first American Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

In India, a women’s festival of purification is held each year on this day. It is called the Anant Chaturdasi, and is dedicated to the ancient serpent-goddess Ananta, who symbolizes the female life force.

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Inspirations for Wraithmoor Castle

My readers have asked me to tell them what inspired the appearance and mood, both inside and out, of the fictitious Wraithmoor Castle Inn  in my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW. Having been fortunate enough to stay in and visit many castles and manor homes during my travels, I drew upon their various attributes. My photographs were a great help and luckily, to aid my memory, I saved all brochures collected along the way.

Since my story is set in Scotland, I needed to capture the Scottish architecture of the period or periods in which it was built, so the exterior reflects mainly the Scots Baronial style mixed with some English Tudor. I then created a drawing of my perception of what the castle would look like. Later, when I was looking for ideas for the book’s cover for my publisher, I was fortunate in finding a photo which was very similar to my concept and drawing.

Wraithmoor Castle Inn

Wraithmoor Castle Inn

To complete the exterior, I needed an elaborate iron gate at the entrance to the parklands of the estate. I already had an idea for that. Chirk Castle in Wales had the perfect gate, although I altered its description.

Chirk Castle Gate

Chirk Castle Gate

I needed spiral steps leading from the residence wing to the scullery, and also to the lower regions of the castle. I found them at Dover Castle in England. (My son populates this picture.)

Spiral Stairway

Spiral Stairway

The rose room that Arran stays in was inspired by The Italian Room at Great Fosters, a manor home in England. I changed it as well, but kept the beautiful mullioned windows.

Italian Room-Great Fosters

Italian Room-Great Fosters

Hever Castle in England and Ruthin Castle in Wales provided lots of inspiration for paintings, the library, drawing room and suits of armor.

Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle

Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle

Suit of Armor

Suit of Armor

Elk Antlers in Entrance Hall

Elk Antlers in Entrance Hall

Library at Hever Castle

Library at Hever Castle

Ceiling at Ruthin

Ceiling at Ruthin

My imagination took hold from there, which certainly wasn’t difficult after seeing so many beautiful sights. For those of you who write, have you combined sites in your stories?

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How important is research? by S M Senden

I have been complimented over and over again about the depth of my research for Clara’s Wish, and my ability to re-create another era so readers feel as if they are right there.  In preparing for an interview, someone asked me that question ‘How Important is research?’  They thought that research amounted to reading a couple of books, looking up some things on the internet and that would be it.  Then I would be ready to write a book set in another era.

I had to laugh at that, for research ~ at least for me ~ can become a deep quagmire that is difficult to extract myself.  But then I do consider myself a devoted history geek.  Once I find myself doing some research on a subject, all too soon it points me in another direction, to another book, to another set of references and so on.

I am currently researching two historical settings for two books I am writing.  The periods are sufficiently diverse that it is easy for me to keep the research separate in my mind.  One of these stories is set primarily in Europe in the late 1700’s about the time of the American Revolution, running through the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era.

The story is about a young girl, Eleanor, who has finished her education in the French convent and comes home to live in England with her only living relative ~ her sister.  The sister has married well and has young children.  They introduce Eleanor into the society of the Bon Ton hoping to find her a suitable husband.

In researching this strata of society, I was caught up in the amazing and volatile times in which they lived.  Since I am a hopeless history geek, I like to have readers learn something as well as be swept along in a good story.  Dorothy Sayers always managed to teach readers something, and I aspire to emulate her.  I read about the people that I wanted to include, in some way in my book, for their lives were extraordinary.  Some in particular are Madame Tussaud, Miss Lenormand, the Duchess of Devonshire and the possibilities that arise when the some of these people meet at Spa in Belgium with a whisper of possible spies and political intrigue.

I have no idea at this point where all my research may take me.  I have the idea for the story and what I would like to have happen to the main characters.  Yet, I do not know how this will end.  My research may change the story or it may reinforce it.  That is the process that I love, creating, pulling research and story together to make another era come alive, not just for me, but for those who read the words I have written.

So, how much research is enough?  I can only say that ~ for me ~ my research never seems to end, for it always points me in a new direction.  However, I do have to get the story written, and as I continue the research process, I can add or take something away and make corrections as I work.  Sooner or later, I will need to say, enough and hope that I have done my best to create another era and bring a fulfilling experience to my readers.

Right now, I better get back to research, for there are still so many books to read!

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Reconstructing Richard

richardIII-650x473stained

I’ve been thinking about Richard III for a long time. I was an only child who lived in a house well supplied with plenty of books, so  I read a lot.  When I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, I learned an important lesson that everyone interested in studying the past learns sooner or later: History is written by the victors, and therefore, the thumbnail version, which we get in school, rarely resembles the truth. I became an ardent Ricardian. Henry Tudor, the man who defeated Richard and founded the famous dynasty, was a sharp politician. It may have been 1486, but he employed talented spin doctors, men like Bishop John Morton who would be right at home in a modern political smear campaign.  Tudor propaganda strategy came to fruition many years later in Shakespeare’s engaging, rip-roaring historical melodrama. For centuries this stage creation has been the “Richard III” most people know.

In the ‘90’s, I had a Ricardian flashback, familiar to OCD types & writers.  I joined a now defunct ‘net group called “Later Medieval Britain” and began talking about the king and the Yorkist era  with interested people who lived all over the world—from Australia, to Britain, to the US. Most knew a great deal more about the period and the newly available ancient sources than I did.  I began to research again. At the same time I began to reconsider the knight- in-shining-armor Richard I’d constructed. After all, as a child I was more of a fan than an historian.

I’d become involved, while writing Mozart’s Wife and My Mozart, in an attempt to enter the mindset of my subjects by immersing myself in contemporary writing. For the later Middle Ages, I discovered newly available sources, listed in Roan Rose’s bibliography. The members of LMB, many members of The Richard III Society, were always willing to share and give me a push in the right direction. For me, anyway, there was a lot of new information to consider.

It’s a long, long way from 1780 to 1480.  The medieval POV I tried to enter when I wrote Roan Rose is not much like ours. There was a rigidly hierarchical social structure and a world view which wouldn’t have been unfamiliar five centuries years earlier.  The class into which a person was born was destiny, although this was not as impermeable in England as it was in the rest of Europe. Medieval people were hard-nosed and their lives were short. As well as the strictures of class, gender was another unrelenting form of destiny. Most women were married and “breeding” by the time they reached their teens.

Even for those living at the top, those with good food and physical comforts, life could be tough. Adulthood began early. For instance, by the time Richard was fourteen, he was making life-altering decisions. He chose loyalty to his brother the King over loyalty to his mentor Warwick, in whose grand household he’d received his knightly training. The bait Warwick dangled was not inconsiderable, either, for this was his lovely cousin Anne, who was one of the richest heiresses in England. Richard’s brother George, contrastingly, took Warwick’s offer and married Anne’s older sister, Isabel. When Warwick – not nicknamed “Kingmaker” for nothing – unseated Richard’s brother, King Edward, and replaced him with the rival Lancastrian claimant, George supported his father-in-law. Richard fled with the King into the lowlands where their sister Margaret, who had married Duke Charles of Burgundy, could protect them. During this time of exile, he and his siblings got busy setting a conspiracy afoot to entice their wayward brother George to return to their side.

Before he was nineteen, Richard led troops in two decisive battles, Barnet and Tewkesbury, which would restore his brother Edward to the throne. He displayed bravery and coolness beyond his years. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury, he and the family’s staunch Yorkist ally, John, Duke of Norfolk, were the judges who delivered death sentences upon captured Lancastrian nobles, lured from sanctuary with false promises of safe passage.  Sixteen noblemen—many of them personally familiar and most of them cousins–were beheaded that day, with the two Dukes as witnesses. After this blood bath, I’ve read, they all went in to dinner. This was a world in which nobles, peasants and commons alike went to see whippings, hangings and disemboweling for entertainment, a world in which life expectancy was a mere 30 years.

I don’t know if I was able to fully enter the mindset necessary for axing my relatives, but I do want to make clear that historical romance characters who can pass for “civilized,” cannot be anything like a real 15th Century specimen.  I’m not saying that we today are so much better, it’s just that we have more constraints, a tad more democracy and a great deal more comfort provided by the twin wonders of science and technology. The characters in Roan Rose are probably still tame when compared to the medieval equivalent, but I did try to avoid the restraints under which today’s well-socialized citizens typically act.

The Richard I’ve written is a contradictory character, though full of emotion and sensitivity. His much-handled and personally annotated prayer book* demonstrates that he “had religion.”  He conscientiously undertook good works to balance the inevitable ledger of sin.  He founded chanteries to pray for the living and the dead, as was expected of a prince, and he gave generously to Queen’s College and to the building of King’s College at Cambridge. He was a thoughtful and competent administrator in a time which was famously short of them. We know he was a brave soldier, and that he was a warrior who’d delivered death with his own hand. Whether he took the English throne for good reasons or bad, whether or not he personally gave the order to put his young nephews to death, we will probably never know.   I made an attempt in this, my first medieval novel, to create men and women whose experiences, emotions and choices might give the reader a taste of what it meant to be alive in those times.

*SUTTON, Anne F. & VISSER-FUCHS, Livia,  The Hours of  Richard III, 1990

http://www.julietwaldron.com

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Geo-Logic

 

 

I stand

in the hard

fields and watch

a hill like a wave,

sweeping toward me,

chalk crumbled crest

of the rolling

land ocean.

 

I can stare

until it topples me;

It is just

a matter of

Time.

 

http://www.julietwaldron.com

 

 

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The Loaf Mass

We’ve celebrated the first of the old harvest festivals: Lammas, or The Loaf Mass. Living in an area that’s still mostly agricultural, I’m keenly aware of the seasons, though I’m also darn glad I don’t farm for a living. Our local Mother Nature hasn’t been kind. She started spring with a long stretch of uncharacteristic cold and rain, delaying planting. Then just about the time corn and other temperature sensitive crops began to grow, She sent what our Penn State Meteorologists are calling “a flash drought.” Wheat came in during the first heat, and those waving green vistas created an inland ocean, so this year’s harvest began well. Now sadly, in wide swatches east of us, where six mule teams still pull threshers and barefoot women and children hoe, the corn stands just knee high, leaves curled and blasted.

When I lived in England in the 60’s, I thrilled to walk into our neighborhood’s square stone Saxon church and see great loaves three and four feet high, baked in special lidded pans, some of which were shaped like sheaves of wheat and others like men—leaned against the altar among the floral offerings. When I asked who the men of bread were, I was told by an old sexton that they were “John Barleycorn, the life of the fields.” Here, I would later learn, was a living link to the Celtic Lugh, an ancient god of vegetation who resurrected every year to feed the British countryside.

My Uncle Richard used to give me a bucket of wheat that had come straight from his harvester. Cleaning out the residual dust and chaff and then grinding it took time, but the bread I made seemed to have an extra dimension of taste, a nutty sweetness that apparently gets lost, even from the finest brands of commercial flour.  Every year the Loaf Mass reminds me, swaddled in a/c and distanced from my place in nature by man made things, of a time when my ancestors grubbed dirt and endured summer heat and rain in order to raise the food needed for survival. The impulse remains to say thank-you to the earth, for the gifts which sustain us. August, no matter how hot, always begins at my house with the baking of bread.

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My Handy Research Tools by Coco Ihle

I’ve found being a pack rat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my trips to the U.K. were family vacations and because these were special occurrences, I didn’t want to forget anything. Taking photos, saving receipts, keeping a trip diary, buying brochures and even audio recording various tours and people became the norm for me.

This collection came in handy while compiling photo albums to share with the family later. I didn’t have to wonder where the heck a certain mystery photo was taken or try to remember an itinerary or timeline. I was so glad I had documented everything.

Since trip planning fell to me, I wanted to make the experience as rich as possible. One year, my (former) husband and I, his parents, and our son went to the U.K., rented a car, and set out touring England, Scotland and Wales on a six-weeks adventure. Since we had three generations in the car, my goal was to include sights that would interest everyone.

We saw battlefields, military monuments and museums, visited Brands Hatch British Grand Prix Race Track and had pints in local pubs to satisfy the guys. Madam Tussaud’s, the planetarium, taking a class in brass rubbing, listening to bagpipers in Scotland and seeing suits of armor up close were fun for our son. Visiting and staying in historic manor homes and castles, attending medieval banquets with the Ladies of the Court in period costumes and strolling in topiary gardens were treats for my mother-in-law and me. We all enjoyed driving through the lush countryside and stopping in quaint villages with their thatched roof cottages; and speaking with the locals gave us different perspectives on the things we had seen and experienced.  At every turn, we tried to make each day interesting and unforgettable.

One night, we stayed in the thirteenth-century House of Agnes Hotel in Canterbury, mentioned in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield. Another, in the The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, a seventeenth-century coaching inn. Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland was once an eleventh-century monastery and is said to be haunted. Lord Dalhousie at Dalhousie Castle flirted with my mother-in-law during our postprandial cocktails, and she blushed for weeks afterwards. I could go on and on.

To help refresh my cherished memories, I have shelves full of brochures, audio tapes, photo albums, music, artwork, you name it. When I began writing my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, set primarily in Scotland, I needed details for descriptions of castles and the countryside, on people in the villages, their personalities and their speech patterns. Even though I had Scottish friends at this point, and the Internet, I relied heavily on my experiences and documentation of the many trips I had taken.

I’m so glad I am a pack rat! Any of you, pack rats, too? Has it been good, bad?

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Bookcase Adventures

Ogden St. George

Ogden St. George

My mother had a charismatic English friend named Rosemary, whose home we visited during several school holidays. She lived in an rambling old stone house in the evocatively named small and ancient village of Shipton-Under-Wychwood.

In memory, my image of Rosemary has merged with Julia Child’s. Mother’s friend was a tall, fair, big-boned Englishwoman, forever engaged in day long sessions with French recipe books, standing in an enormous dim kitchen filled with arcane culinary devices and dangling copper pans. Her children were much younger than I, so they weren’t very interesting to me, a solitary teen. She also kept 6 or 7 (they milled in a group, so it was tough to count how many there actually were) long-haired Dachshunds, a breed of dog I’d never met before. They were charming dogs who liked to lie in heaps on the couch, like a fluffy, smiling pile of black and tan pillows.

Rosemary had terrific bookcases, which I was turned loose upon while she and Mom sipped sherry in the kitchen. These were full of historical novels from the 30’s and 40’s—some earlier. Here were Norah Lofts and Elizabeth Goudge with their mystical and yet oh-so-grisly- vision of the romantic past. Between those covers I discovered a burning love for the genre, and learned what a mesmerizing time travel experience a good writer can deliver. The most exotic of all the books Rosemary owned were the ones by Joan Grant: “Winged Pharoah,” and “Lord of the Horizon.” Mrs. Grant always said her “novels” were, in fact, recalled past lives. So brilliantly realized were they infected my subconcious; I dreamed of them for many years. Those books also kindled a keen interest in topics which were considered totally wacko in the ‘50’s, but are now Cable TV staples: past lives, auras, astral projection, Egyptian gods and ghosts, Atlantis, and so on.

Rosemary was also an expert in all these new and fascinating topics, and seemed to like to talk to me. After a few hours, I found I could enter the kitchen and talk with her about all the astonishing things I’d read. The ladies, having imbibed several glasses of sherry and had their grown-up chat, were quite welcoming, even Mom, who was proud of my geekiness. I remember sitting on a stool in that imperfectly lighted kitchen, watching Rosemary turn a perfectly delicious bird into a pate, which to my kid taste buds didn’t taste half as good as plain turkey.

Meanwhile, ever more dishes piled into the big sink. Spoons and sharp knives littered the counter. The dachshunds were underfoot, begging for thrown treats and getting them, their long ears dragging across a slate floor accumulating an authentically medieval patina of grease.

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