The Allure of the Tree

Andrea here, musing about the allure of the Christmas tree. I was traveling for the two weeks right before Christmas Eve and decided that I would have to forego a tree this year because it would turn brittle and lose its needles without the regular watering needed to keep it in fine fettle. A rational decision, perhaps, but I was a little surprised at how much I missed its presence when I arrived home.

When I was a kid, decorating the tree was always a highlight of the season. My family would take turns adding an ornament at a time. No tinsel was ever allowed. Just lights (no little fairy lights but the old-fashioned bulbs in traditional colors)and ornaments. All of us had favorites, and it was always fun to see much-loved friends appear year after year.

But as happens, kids grow up and family traditions change . . . my Mother kept all the boxes at her house and for years she would decorate a tree with the same ornaments for when we came for our Christmas visits. When she passed away, the boxes got divided between us, and also shared nephews and nieces who wanted to have a sweet memory of their grandmother.

I eventually decided to make my own tradition and found a collection of wonderful wooden snowflakes a while back that together with my blue and silver ornament balls make up the annual look of my tree. (I find that I like a simple, minimal look.) That its familiar twinkling of good cheer and wonderful scent of pine is not there to add a festive touch to the remaining Yuletide evenings this year makes the season a little less bright.

How about you? Do you have a tradition of putting up a tree? Do you have childhood memories of Christmas trees past?


Tis the Season for Bling!

C3a6c7844469c0658b85d71301e58611Andrea here. Due to the frenzy of the holidays and various demands, I am invoking the Wenchly “Repost” Rule, where we occasionally share an oldie-but-goodie. Given that the holiday season is a time of glittering baubles and bright, festive colors, I thought I would re-share a post on Men in Uniform.

The original blog was inspired by the setting of MURDER AT THE SERPENTINE BRIDGE, Book 6 of my Wrexford & Sloane mystery—the famous Peace Celebrations which were held in London during June of 1814. I was struck by the pomp and splendor of the famous guests—especially the victorious military brass—who came from all over the Continent to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon (this is, the first defeat!) and his exile to the isle of Elba. War is ugly and brutal, leaving a trail of death, desolation and destruction in its wake. So it’s a terrible irony that the painted portraits of the military involved in the interminable Napoleonic Wars have a certain heroic splendor (not to speak of a penchant for over-the-top bling!)

What is it about about uniform festooned with a king’s ransom of gold braid and gaudy baubles that draws a fluttery sigh from the ladies? I confess, during the course of my research, I found myself pausing to admire the, er, eye candy. So, putting aside moral scruples to honor the superb artistry of the Regency painters, I thought I would share some of my favorite examples of Men in Uniform. (The Allied officers play some small cameo roles in my story!) Enjoy the view!

Horatio Nelson

Sir Sidney Smith

Joachim Murat
Auguste de Marmont

Louis-Nicolas d'Avout

Alexander I

Jean-de-Dieu Soult
From top to bottom: Charles Stewart; Horatio Nelson; Sir Sidney Smith; Joachim Murat; Auguste de Marmot; Napoleon; Louis-Nicolas d’Avout; Tsar Alexander I; Jean-de-Dieu Soult; Sir John Moore. (all images courtesy of Wikicommons )

So what about you? Does a man in uniform draw a fluttery sigh? (And even if Santa isn’t putting a hunky military hero under the tree, best wishes to all our Wenchly readers for a happy holiday season filled with good cheer—and good books!)

Read more

Hoot, Hoot—Musings on Owls

Andrea here, musing on owls today. Perhaps it’s because the shortest day of the years is close, and owls are nocturnal—a creature of the night. I’ve always found them a fascinating bird, not only in the wild, where I find their plaintive hoots alluring (though they usually prove elusive from sight.) I also love their depictions in art, where their mystery and aloofness seem to inspire fascinating visuals, from ancient times to the present day.

Since ancient times, owls have been a symbol of wisdom and vigilance. I first became really aware of that when I was in college because the owl appears in so many decorative stone carvings on the buildings around campus. From serious to silly, owls are tucked away in nooks and crannies, adorn the walls or peer down from rooftops. It was great fun discovering them.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing their stature in ancient Greek art. The owl is the symbol of Athena, the goddess of Wisdom (as well as  War, Weaving and other crafts) It was said in ancient lore that the owl sat behind Athena so she could see the entire Truth. Its images appears in sacred sculptures, coins and mosaics and many other artforms throughout the city of Athens and Greece.

Read more

The Backstory as an Integral Part of a Novel

Andrea here, musing today about backstories. Now, as a fiction writer, I consider backstories an integral part of the writing process for my characters. I try to imagine basic things about them—vulnerabilities, issues from the past, surprise revelations about quirks or talents—that I can reveal to readers. It’s especially fun if the characters are part of an ongoing series, where I can slowly unpeel layers—like with an onion!—to show the hidden depths.

But in my upcoming book, THE DIAMOND OF LONDON, the idea of backstory takes a  little different twist. In this book I delve into a new genre of historical fiction and have penned a fictional biography. Yes, I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, and at first I wasn’t sure whether I felt comfortable taking it on. My publisher wanted to bring to life the stories of remarkable women in history whose achievements have been hidden for too long in the shadows of traditional historical narratives. I loved the idea so I decided to do delve into the challenge and see if I picture a way to combine fact and fiction, as I would be imagining my subject’s thoughts and feelings.

I chose Lady Hester Stanhope (above) as a possible subject. I knew a bit about her later life as one of the early 19th century’s most famous adventurer. She excavated ruins in the Levant, raised her own private army and brokered power-sharing with the warlords of the region, wore men’s clothing and rode astride . . . in other words, she said “convention be damned—I’m going to live exactly as I please!”

Read more

What We’re Reading in October

Some of it was realNicola 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.

Read more