Christina here. I may have mentioned this before, but back in 2015 something quite amazing was discovered in the little village church of St Faith’s at Bacton in Herefordshire – a piece of cloth from one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses. It had been used for centuries as an altar cloth, and the parishioners had no idea what a treasure they possessed. When it was rediscovered, it was rather grubby and worn, and didn’t look particularly impressive. The reason the experts could be sure that it really was one of Elizabeth’s dresses, though, was that it’s made of cloth of silver. Under the so-called Sumptuary Laws of the time, only members of the royal family were allowed to wear it, so it had to be hers. Despite the state of it, it’s priceless, because it is the Tudor queen’s only surviving piece of clothing, even though she reputedly owned about 1,900 dresses in total. Not a single one of them remain, except this small fragment with beautiful embroidered motifs in all the colours of the rainbow. In the so-called Rainbow portrait of the queen, she wears a similarly embroidered gown and this shows how the completed dress would have looked.
Nicola here, introducing the ever-popular Wenches monthly round up of what we've been reading. As always, our virtual shelves are groaning beneath the weight of recommendations and we hope you will share your reads with us – and add to the TBR pile! – as well as enjoy some of the books we're talking about. October is the perfect time to curl up with a good book, so without further ado, let's dive in!
Anne here. The standout read for me in October was Some of it Was Real, by Nan Fischer. It’s a contemporary, and though there’s a relationship, it’s not really a romance. Sylvie Young is a psychic-medium, a rising star on the verge of having her own TV show. Thomas Holmes is a journalist looking to resurrect his failing career by writing a story exposing her as a fraud. Thomas doesn’t believe in Sylvie’s “powers” and calls people like her “grief vampires” who prey on people’s distress.
Mysteries surround Sylvie’s early childhood. Adopted at the age of six, she has no memories of the time before that — and what little she does remember is fractured, comes in dreams, or sparks panic attacks. Sylvie decides to take Thomas on a journey with her to discover what they can about her past. She hopes he will learn to accept and believe in her powers — even though she’s not entirely confident of them, and augments them with research about her audience — which she calls “forming bridges”. It’s a complicated situation. And Thomas is determined to prove her a fraud.
Pat here, just back from South America and not quite ready to post on travels. So here’s a shorty, the promised blog on newspapers in the Regency. I’ve already told you how it took nearly half a week for news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo to reach London. What startled me was learning that the newspapers took so long to report the news because they had NO journalists anywhere—editors simply waited for official court documents before printing an edition telling the British populace that Napoleon had been defeated!
Andrea here, talking about an often-overlooked element of writing a book—the Author’s Note. When I started my Wrexford & Sloane series, I decided an explanation about some of the elements in the plot would be helpful to readers. First of all, early science and technology plays a big part in the stories, many of the things mentioned are esoteric enough that readers might not have a handle on what I was talking about. (As an avid reader, I find that frustrating, and don’t want to have to go haring off to find research material on my own!) And so, I added an Author’s Note to the first book.
I confess, they have grown longer with each successive book, as I find it fun to share some of the “rabbit hole” research that tickles my fancy. I’ve gotten a number of letters to indicate that some readers enjoy the nerdy stuff as much as I do. (I figure those who aren’t interested can simply close the covers.)
I do try to think of all the things that might need some clarification (without going overboard) But in my latest book, MURDER AT THE MERTON LIBRARY, I got several reader queries about a few scenes in the book where I have a twelve-year-old midshipman in the British Navy was commanding a naval vessel with a crew of adult sailors. “Is that really accurate?” was the question.
I’m still locked in mortal combat with the current book, so I’m offering another classic travel blog: a riverboat cruise on the Danube. Rivers were the interstates of the past, and so much of European civilization developed along the waterways. How better to explore than in a boat holding maybe 150 friendly, intelligent passengers and serving lots of really good food?
Like a plot element, the idea of a riverboat cruise simmered in my lizard brain for years, and in 2006, I thought it was time to do a cruise in Southern France. Except that all the French cruises were booked for the time slot we had, and we ended up cruising the Douro River in Northern Portugal. It was great.
This year, I decided it was time to book that French cruise. Urp. Once again, Southern France along the Rhone was sold out. Which is how we ended up cruising the Danube. Again, it was great—the Mayhem Consultant and I are easily amused, and any interesting new place will be fun. (Update 2023: we’d booked a French riverboat cruise for autumn 2022, but for a variety of reasons we cancelled it. I think I’m doomed never to travel the French rivers!)
Our Danube cruise started with a three day pre-cruise extension in Prague, which isn’t on the Danube, but really, how could we go to Eastern Europe and not see Prague? The city has been an intellectual and creative center for centuries, and under the blighting hand of five decades of Soviet rule, it was spared rapacious developers tearing down beautiful old buildings.