The Wenches Invite You to a Reel Celebration!

Womandrinkingcol Cara/Andrea here, serving as hostess for this very special day.

BirthdayCandles2 Light the candles, pop the champagne corks, pour the bubbly! The Wenches are celebrating today! It’s our fifth anniversary, and so we’re raising a toast . . . not just to a half decade of Wenchly books, but to you, our readers, who share with us a passion for books and history. Your thoughtful comments and provocative questions have been a source of constant inspiration as we muse here each week on the wonderful—and often wacky—world of writing. In turn, we hope you enjoy our sense of wonder, our sense of humor, and perhaps most of all, our sense of joy in exploring both the past and present world. The fact is, we’re passionate about the creative process, and all the infinitely interesting things that spark the imagination and the art of storytelling.   

ChampagneClink3 There have been little changes along the way as we’ve grown and added a few new frills—along with a few new faces (me included!) And this year, as you can see, we’ve given ourselves a new look (hey, what girl doesn’t like a make-over!) by updating the blog’s design. A special toast must be raised to our amazing webmistress Sherrie Holmes for keeping the Wenches running so smoothly (and keeping us all in stitches of laughter during our daily e-mail chats.) And one to Eileen Buckholtz for all her technical expertise.

Now, no party is complete without fun and games, so the Wenches have come up with a playful challenge for you. Each of us has picked a favorite historical movie and written a short blurb about why we love it. Can you guess who has chosen what film—either by the choice itself, or by the style of writing?

5thAnniversary3 A winner will be chosen from among all those who submit the highest percentage of right guesses in the “Comments” space below. The prize is a very special set of 8 autographed books (one from each Wench) so be sure to join the fun and give us your list between now and Saturday evening! And while you are at it, please tell us YOUR favorite historical movie.

Enjoy the festivities, everyone! We look forward to sharing lots more good cheer and good books with you in the coming year. And now, let the show begin:

Battle_of_Waterloo_1815--William-Sadler Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo is an iconic event in the Regency.  It ended twenty years of war, it began a new era, and is a vital presence in more Regency romances than anyone could count.  We Wenches have wounded our share of heroes and sometimes heroines there, either in book time or back story.  So if you want to get a sense of what the battle was like, there is no better way than watching the 1970 movie Waterloo.

Wellington The movie was an Italian-Russian production with mostly English speaking stars, and the extras included something like 15,000 Russian infantrymen and 2,000 cavalryman.  It was said that during the filming, director Sergei Bondarchuk was commanding the 7th largest army in the world.

 Not only did all those trained soldiers give a huge sense of scale, but they moved like soldiers.  I can’t imagine that any CGI version of the battle in the future could be as convincing.  A scene that stays with me is an aerial shot near the end showing the French cavalry pounding the red squares of British soldiers.  Some of the squares bent and twisted—but they didn’t break.

Waterloo-1970-13-g I love how well the film sticks to the historical record.  It starts with Napoleon’s abdication, touches on his exile to Elba, then his return and the 100 Days that ended on a bloody field in Belgium.  Waterloo was the first battle where Wellington and Napoleon came face to face—and Wellington won.

Christopher Plummer makes a wonderfully cool Wellington, while Rod Steiger seethes as the intense, charismatic (and realistically chubby) Napoleon.  To my delight, I recognized a lo
t of British dialogue as genuine, and I understand that the same is true for the French characters. (Whose words are translated into English, fortunately.)

Besides being good history, it’s both entertaining and sobering.  As Wellington thinks at the end (a real comment he is known to have said), “Next to a battle lost, the saddest thing is a battle won.”

Waterloo is available in DVD, and well worth watching if you’re a Regency buff.

Joseph_fiennes_shakespeare_in_love_001 Shakespeare in Love

Regular wench readers ought to know who I am without my saying anymore than that my favorite historical movie is Shakespeare in Love.  No gory violence for me! Brilliant costumes, hints of history, delightful dialogue, humor, and the audience gets to flaunt their intellectual prowess by pointing out the bits of Shakespeare’s history and stories they recognize.

  Gwyneth_paltrow_shakespeare_in_love_002 Since what we know of Shakespeare is actually very thin, it’s hard to argue with the history of this gem. The movie even shows his multiple misspelled signatures and throws in Kit Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth for good measure. Everything else is outrageously fictionalized and a delight to watch, even if we know that, like Shakespeare’s tragedies, including the Romeo and Juliet the movie portrays, the love affair must end unhappily.

Allforlove2 All For Love

  All for Love is a film based on the novel St Ives by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s set in 1813 when Captain Jacques St Ives, a French Hussar, is captured and sent to a Scottish prisoner of war camp. The experience of foreign prisoners of war in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars is a fascinating subject not often covered in the books on the period and the film is very true to historical fact with some wonderful period details.

Allforlove3 The plot of All for Love contains several monstrous co-incidences which I’m sure no author would get away with now but for me this doesn’t spoil the sheer swashbuckling fun of the story. It has a handsome hero, a spirited heroine and a marvellous supporting cast including the brooding Jason Isaacs as the villain, Miranda Richardson as a very unconventional lady – complete with hookah pipe! – and Richard E Grant as Major Farquar Bolingbroke Chevening, who asks his French prisoner for advice on how to woo the ladies!   The film is funny, romantic and very entertaining but it also throws interesting light on a neglected aspect of British history.

Heath_ledger_002 A Knight’s Tale

A notable historical movie, eh?

There are so many, but one that always leaps into my mind is A Knight's Tale. You remember that one, yes? From 10 years ago, and starring Heath Ledger, sadly now dead. In one way it's not for historical purists, what with its jousting audience singing "We will rock you" and doing the wave.

Heath_ledger_001 But in another, I think it's an interesting take on the Middle Ages, built around jousting. Apart from the occasional formally staged event, that was a rough and ready, crowd pleasing sport. Men followed the tourney circuit to hone their fighting skills, to simply enjoy fighting, but also to make money by defeating others. I'm sure it was as raucous, messy, and often sleazy as we see here. And, of course A Knight's Tale also stars the wonderful Paul Bettany as Chaucer, naked even!

Laura_fraser_paul_bettany_mark_addy_heath_ledger_001 With reference to historical fiction, I also love that it shows the Middle Ages as vibrantly alive and fun. When did we lose that, and lose much of the medieval historical with it? A Knight's Tale is in full color, whereas these days so much historical film is deliberately muted, dingy, and dull. Medieval people loved color whenever they could get it. Think about stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, and tapestries.

So three cheers for A Knight's Tale. I wish there were
a lot more films like it.

2003_master_and_commander_013 Master & Commander

There’s action! There’s adventure! All twined with wonderfully vivid historical details of Regency-era maritime life. So it’s no wonder that Master and Commander, an adaptation of one of Patrick O’Brien’s magnificent Aubrey-Maturin books  which stars Russell Crowe, is one of my favorite historical movies.

2003_master_and_commander_007 A swashbuckling hero with a softer, more cerebral core beneath the grit and gunpowder, Captain Jack Aubrey loves classical music and appreciates the eccentric interests of his ship’s surgeon, an ardent naturalist. So exotic beetles and lizards live side by side with cannonballs on his British warship as he and his crew pursue a French enemy to the far side of the world.

2003_master_and_commander_010 Throughout the film we see scenes of everyday life aboard ship, as well as battle scenes and glimpses of the scientific expeditions that often were part of British naval missions to faraway corners pf the globe. It’s a multi-textured story of war, courage, conflict and honor. But it's also a very human story of friendship, with well-rendered characters who show interesting depth and make history come alive. And the visual details (including the storms at sea) are really splendid. Whether you are a seafarer, or simply someone who loves history, I highly recommend it!

High_Noon_poster   High Noon

High Noon examines what it means to be a hero.  Marshall Will Kane can choose to face the gunfighter who's coming to kill him, or run away and abandon his own integrity and the town he has protected.  The personal stakes and the likelihood of his own death rise again and again as every person he believed in turns against him.

 Every plausible argument against lone heroism is presented — from the highest moral ground, to the lowest self-interest.  Marshall Kane meets each of these challenges.
Clock-wiki In the end, he is left with nothing but his own sense of duty and his personal honor to go out and face death.  

Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly and Lloyd Bridges

Quote:  "This is just a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing that happens here is important."

The Last of the Mohicans

Ddlewis Pick just one favorite historical movie?! Not easy! But my choice for the movie that touches me most, means the most personally, that I’ll watch again and again… that I admire in so many ways, it has to be The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe, directed by Michael Mann.
Based on James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 novel, the film tells a story of the French and Indian Wars, when Gen. Montcalm conspired with the Huron nation to defeat the British military and the local Colonial militia at Fort William Henry beside Lake George in upstate New York in 1757. The basic events are true, the novel is an American literary classic, and the movie is an exciting, deeply romantic, stunning film. It is both an authentic interpretation and a frank presentation, not for the faint-hearted, of a fascinating time in history. The movie clarifies Cooper’s huge novel and ramps up plot and characters to create a poignant and powerful version of the story.
Last-of-the-mohicans And Last of the Mohicans hits home for me, quite literally; I was born and raised near Lake George. Fascinated by local history, I found arrowheads in the yard and visited Fort Wm. Henry so many times that it's imprinted in my mind. And that beginning, in many ways, set me on a path as a historical novelist. I read Cooper's novels, I watched the original old films on TV, and I soaked up the history and the stories.

So when Michael Mann's blockbuster film came out, I was probably the first one in the theater in my Maryland town. Not only was I completely transported back to the places and events I knew so well – I was captivated by the romance and the sheer power of the film. The movie trims the novel and improves on it, notably adding a romance between Hawkeye and Cora, with one of the best screen kisses ever … accompanied by a haunting Scottish fiddle piece, “The Gael” by Dougie MacLean (who, coincidentally, later became a good friend). That stirring music piece also powers the final, unforgettable scenes.
Mark Twain, in his day, had much to say about James Fenimore Cooper’s writing, to hilarious, biting effect. Twain claimed that Cooper broke most of the supposed “rules” of good writing, including “eschew surplusage.” And he pointed out bad habits in Cooper’s fiction, such as making “a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy…Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick.”
Cooper created a great story in Last of the Mohicans – and Michael Mann created a film that Cooper, and even Twain, would have loved.

Catherine_zeta_jones_the_mask_of_zorro_001 The Mask of Zorro

I suspect I'm scraping it in here, claiming The Mask of Zorro as my favorite historical movie — the Antonio Banderas & Anthony Hopkins version. It is slightly historical, being loosely based on several events that occurred after the Mexican War of Independence. According to Wikipedia, the character played by Antonio Banderas is a fictional brother of Joaquin Murriueta, a Mexican outlaw killed by California State Ranger Harry Love portrayed here as Texas Army Captain "Harrison Love", in 1853. As he did in the movie, the actual Harry Love preserved Murrieta's head in a large, alcohol-filled glass jar.

Anthony_hopkins_the_mask_of_zorro_004 But I love it because it's fun, not because of the history. I'm a huge fan of Antonio Banderas, and have followed his career ever since the first movie I saw him in, Almadovar's Woman on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, when he was quite young – 19 I think. I'm also a great admirer of Anthony Hopkins — fell in love with him in War and Peace, ordering his troops to "Forward at a twot." But it's the chemistry and interplay between these two, as the wily old world-weary former Zorro and the cocksure, wild, barely broken to bridle young Zorro that really makes the movie to me.

C&A Speaking of chemistry, there's also brilliant sizzle and spark between Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is the heroine in the movie. Their fencing, with rapiers and words, is enormous fun and the sexy-strip-by-rapier fencing scene is fabulous.

Okay, everyone, let the guessing begin!

Ask A Wench: Bizarre Knowledge

The Bizarre Byways of Research
By Joanna

A goodly while ago, Pat Punt asked the Wenches to 

. . . share some of the strangest trivia they have come across in their research.  Having done my share of surfing the 'net, I have encountered many a fact stranger than fiction.   Their experience must be even more bizarre.

Bizarre does seem an appropriate description for what we come across.


Scheele's green   From Pat Rice:

The only trivia I remember is from my childhood. I play a mean game of 60's Trivial Pursuit. <G>

But I just recently wrote about the poisonous green paint that might have killed Napoleon (Kill Your Hero with Regency Wallpaper and given a whole lot of other people pneumonia, asthma, and the winter blues.

But the one bit of history that sticks clearly in my mind—probably because it affected the area where I lived for twenty years—is the Mississippi flowing backward during the 1811 New Madrid earthquake. Can you imagine how powerful an earthquake would have to be to send the mighty Mississippi backward? And weirder yet, Shawnee tribe leader Tecumseh and his brother predicted the earthquake before it arrived. For some other weird stories about the period: see here.

From Mary Jo Putney:

Lord Uxbridge’s Leg
  Henry paget cropped and flipped 2
Many wonderful bits of bizarreness appear in research, and one recently caught my eye.  Henry Paget,  Lord Uxbridge (later Marquis of Anglesey) was colorful enough to merit a blog all on his own—even his right leg has its own story.
Uxbridge was one of Britain’s leading cavalry commanders during the Napoleonic wars, though he was sidelined for several years because he ran off with the wife of one of Wellington’s brothers, and Wellington was understandably not pleased.  (Uxbridge and his lady love both divorced their spouses and married each other.)
Uxbridge’s talents were needed at Waterloo, where he led his cavalrymen bravely and well.  One of the last cannonballs fired smashed into his right leg.  In a classic example of British stiff-upper-lipness, Uxbridge exclaimed, “By God, sir, I’ve lost my leg!”
Wellington, who was nearby, said, “By God, sir, so you have!”
Uxbridge was taken to his headquarters, a house in the village of Waterloo, and the leg was amputated while he sat in a chair.  Note, in those days no anesthesia, and I’m not sure he even had a swig of brandy.  Amputations were done very, very fast, in a couple of minutes or under—but a bad couple of minutes.
In more stoicism, instead of screaming hysterically like a sensible man, his only comment was that the knives seemed rather dull.  Probably they were, given the number of amputations that day.
Lord Uxbridge at Waterloo Uxbridge asked his friend General Sir Hussey Vivian to inspect the amputated leg to see if it might have been salvageable.  The inspection was duly performed, and Hussey Vivian assured Uxbridge that the leg had been smashed and mangled and was better off than on.  (Though really, if a an amputated limb looked like it could have been saved, would you have told a friend that when it was too late?)?
So Uxbridge went home to the loving arms of his wife and got a famous artificial leg, the saw that cut off his leg went to the National Army Museum, and the mangled leg and the blood-stained chair in which he sat went on to provide many years of income to Monsieur Paris, the owner of the house.
At first, visitor were shown the chair, then escorted to the garden where the leg had been buried.  It had its own headstone.  Later a wit wrote:
Here lies the Marquis of Anglesey's limb;
The Devil will have the remainder of him.  Boot sign with text cc attrib cynnerz
Other poetry was written to the severed limb. Royalty visited.  Revenue flowed to the Paris family, who owned the house. In 1878, one of Uxbridge’s sons visited and found the bones openly displayed.  The Paris family claimed they’d been washed into the open by a storm.
The Pagets wanted the bones back.  The Parises offered to sell them.  The Paget family was NOT amused.  The Belgian Minister of Justice ordered the bones reburied.  They weren’t—they were hidden away, finally to be burned by the widow of the last Monsieur Paris in 1934.  So you could say that Uxbridge’s leg had a good long run.
A number of Paget family members lost limbs in the Napoleonic wars, including one of his daughters who lost a hand nursing her husband on a Spanish battlefield.
But only Uxbridge’s leg became a shrine.



From Jo Bourne:
I have a certain interest in Napoleon, since he's either the great villain or the hero of the Regency era, depending on which side you're talking to.

During his Russian campaign, after a narrow escape from Cossacks, Napoleon asked his physician to prepare a 'suicide packet' so he wouldn't fall into Russian hands alive.  He carried the little envelope of belladonna, opium, and hellebore — 'strong enough to kill two men' — in a black taffeta pouch around his neck.   He still had it 18 months later when Allied forces of Russia, Prussia, England and Sweden crossed the border of France and swept into Paris.  France had fallen.  On April 12, 1814, at the Palace of Fontainebleau, Napoleon swallowed the poison.  

Maybe it had lost some of its potency.  Maybe the physician got his dosage wrong, not being a professional poisoner.  Napoleon was seriously ill, but he lived — to be exiled to Elba, to escape, to gather his army, to march one last time across Europe, and to meet Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

If the poison had been a leetle more effective, none of our heroes would have faced the battlefield of Waterloo.

From Nicola Cornick:
I love research and the distracting byways it can take me down. Three pieces of strange trivia in particular come to mind when I think about the research I’ve done.
Wiki Closeup_of_copper_rivet_on_jeans Firstly, that denim has been in fashion for more than 300 years. There are paintings from the 17th century featuring people dressed in denim. In the Regency period some half-boots were made from the material. I had no idea. I thought it was a modern invention!
In the early 19th century, chamber pots were made that contained a musical bWiki pot_de_chambre_4ox. In 1820 Prince Metternich was awoken in the night by a musical chamber pot that played the flute. He found and pressed a button and the music stopped, only for it to start again an hour later. The musical chamber  pot eventually ran out of steam and made what he described as “disturbing little noises.” When he complained in the morning the valet commented that there was another chamber pot in the castle that played trumpet music.
There were laws regulating hackney carriages that were never repealed and still apply to London taxis today. One of them is that the cab driver is supposed to ask you if you have any “notifiable diseases such as smallpox or the plague.” As carrying sufferers is illegal, he should refuse anyone who looks as though they may be infected because if you die on the journey he will be committing the offence of carrying a corpse.

From Anne Gracie:

Dr clothed in protective garment1400w All kinds of odd things crop up in research. One that tickled my fancy was the various attitudes to the whole notion of plague and contagion that existed in the early 19th century. The question polarized the medical profession into two camps, contagionists and anti-contagionists, and was hotly debated, even in Parliament. These reports are from Hansard (the  official UK parliamentary record) here.

Mr. Trant said: The plague prevailed at Alexandria while he was there. A surgeon with whom he was acquainted disbelieved the theory of contagion, and went among the patients in the hospital. He did not then take the infection, but wishing to push his experiments to the utmost, he got into a bed which had been occupied by one who had the infection. He did then become infected, and he died in consequence. General opinion, however, attributed the disease to atmospheric influence.

Sir Robert Wilson said, that when he went to Egypt, the impression on his mind was, that the plague was contagious; but he was soon satisfied of the contrary. When he was in Egypt, the army formed two Bonaparte_Woodville
divisions. The one which was stationed at Alexandria took the plague; the other, which was generally in motion, was not touched with it. The difference was attributed to atmospheric influence. The Turks had no hesitation in entering the infected places. The bodies of those who died of the plague were buried in their clothes, and were generally dug up and stripped by those who had less fear of the consequences. The moving division of the British army passed through villages infected with the plague, without being touched with it…
It appeared to be one of the extraordinary phenomena of this disease, that persons who remained stationary were liable to it, and that those who passed rapidly through various currents of air escaped it.

However some historians have suggested that much of the medical fraternity's conversion to anti-contagionism was less a result of medical conviction and more a desire to oppose "expensive, arbitrary and draconian" quarantine measures that hampered trade.  Doctors declared yellow fever, the plague, and cholera — the main diseases affected by quarantines — to be non-contagious. Other diseases were less controversial

From Jo Beverley:

Torpedo War, and Sub-marine Explosions, That's the title of a book by American, Robert Fulton.

  But it was not published recently. Instead, in 1804
However a submarine vessel was demonstrated for King James 1 (early 17th century) and the Americans tried out an armed submarine during the Revolution.

There are many odd ideas in the wonderful Century of Inventions, by the Marquess of Worcester, written in the 17th century.  Here.

Century 477 The "century" refers to there being 100 bright ideas. On the above page there's a description of "certain short muskets of an inch, or very near an inch bore, out of which you may shoot either chained bullets, or half a score pistol bullets, or half a dozen harquebus bullets at one shot, or you may shoot out of the same fire arrows made with strong shafts, feathered with horn, or with common feathers, glued and bound on with thread. When you are to shoot a fire arrow out of any of these pieces, you must not give the piece her full loading of powder." He further notices that " The string made fast to the end of the fire-work is to keep the arrow straight in his passage."

The illustration gives one serious doubts!


From Cara Elliott/Andrea Pickens:

I love doing background reading and research for my books, so I often come across arcane and unusual trivia-for me, that's half the fun! There have been a lot of weird little facts that I file away in my mental storage drawers . . . but if I have to pick one to pull out, I would say it's fact about gunpowder and how it is made. Wiki-Explosions

There are three main components in gunpowder: charcoal, sulfur and saltpeter, or niter.  Saltpeter, is the waste product of two strains of bacteria . . . waste product is the operative word here, as you shall soon see.

Martellotowers gunpowder During the Napoleonic Wars, gunpowder was, as you can imagine, a crucial ingredient for military might. And both England and France were pressed to be inventive in order to find enough domestic saltpeter to meet the demand. Traditionally, the best source was barnyard soil, for it was so rich in animal waste. And so, according to Jack Kelly's wonderful book, “Gunpowder, Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics,” the British government actually toyed with the idea of ordering all innkeepers to require that their patrons urinate in large wooden barrels, which would then be used to make gunpowder for the army (A sidenote is that the urine of churchmen who drank brandy was supposed to make the most potent powder-go figure!)

For some reason, the plan fizzled, but it still remains one of the more curious bits of trivia I've come across!



What's your favorite nugget of bold, bizarre research trivia?

Tell Me A Story . . .

APenrose-bookmark Cara/Andrea here,

With all the new developments and buzz about e-books and e-reading, I’ve been thinking a lot about the written word. Which, for some odd reason, also got me thinking about books and the spoken word. I wasn’t one of those kids who went out for the school plays, so the occasional times that I do public readings from my novels, I’m more than a little nervous.

Gulp. Speak aloud? The sweat starts to trickle down my spine.

Regency-reading I always take pains to practice the selected passage aloud. The first attempt usually comes out as a croak. The second is a herky-jerky stumbling over the sentences. Finally, after countless tries, I’m usually able to get through it without too many embarrassing hitches.

For those who haven’t tried it, reading aloud is NOT easy. Oh, mumbling the words doesn’t take that much effort, but to capture the mood and the nuances of a story, to make each of the characters come alive, is a daunting challenge. At least it is for me. And it made me realize how, with CDs, DVDs, TV, i-pads, Kindles, Nooks, and the internet to keep ourselves amused, reading aloud—or storytelling—has become pretty much of a lost art these days.

Regency-reader-1 Regency-reader-2 Of course, that was not so in the Regency. We have only to look at the novels of our beloved Jane Austen to see countless examples of how the practice was woven into the fabric of everyday life. Fanny Price, like so many poor relations and paid companions, was expected to keep her aunt’s boredom at bay with the soothing sounds of the spoken word. The Bennet sisters had to sit through Mr. Collin’s pompous readings of religious texts. And then there were the solemn Sunday church sermons and passages from the Scriptures to remind people of their moral duties.

Gillray On a lighter note, we are constantly reminded of how one of the main sources of evening entertainment for a family was reading a novel together after the evening meal, with each family member taking a turn. Poetry was also popular—though I imagine not many parents allowed their daughters to recite Lord Byron’s Don Juan or The Corsair aloud!

Beowulf.firstpage The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the oral tradition of storytelling has been an integral part of the human experience since the dawn of civilization. Starting with the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from around 2000 BC and is considered one of the first works of literary fiction, we see the archetypal theme of “hero and a quest” take form. (Ha, you see, romance was at the root of our imagination even back then.) This continues with Beowulf and the classical Greek epic poems of  The Iliad and  The Odyssey. And the rise of Greek theatre, with its chorus, was another way of telling an oral story.

It’s interesting to note that during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church developed “mystery plays” to convey stories of the Bible and other morality tales to the masses, most of whom could not read or understand the Latin of Church services.

Medieval-storytelling The Middle Ages also saw the rise of the troubadour tradition, which combined epic poetry and song. Guilem de Peitieu, 9th Duke of Aquitaine, is credited with inspiring the concept, and the French courts went on to develop the concept of Courtly Love, and their stories refined the notions of chivalrous behavior that have been passed down to this day. Eleanor of Aquitaine brought the tradition to England when she married Henry II. Her son, Richard the Lionhearted, was one of the most celebrated troubadours of his time, and was much admired for his artistic skills—as well as his prowess on the field of battle. During this time, we also see the rise of the Arthurian legends. (Love, honor, jealousy, sex, betrayal—the romance is heating up!)

Crusades-Troubadours Dante, Milton . . . I could go on and on, bu
t let’s fast-forward to the present, where the idea of going and listening to someone read aloud seems something of an oddity, a quaint, old-fashioned throwback to the past. I suppose that audio books are the closest thing we have to a modern version of the oral tradition.

Storytelling-1 Which brings me full circle to my own experience. After coutless sessions of practicing until I’m blue in the face, I have come to two realizations: One—I made a wise career choice in steering away from the performing arts. Two—much as I want to like listening to stories, I much prefer to read them. I am one of those people who just doesn’t follow a narrative well by listening. It seems to go in one ear and out the other. My mind wanders . . . I forget what I have heard . . . a particular voice doesn’t mesh with my idea of the character. I need to see the printed words on a page, (yes, I still prefer books to e-readers) to go at my own pace, to hear my own voices for the characters.

Greekchorus I shall end my “story” by sharing a few quotes I came across while doing a bit of research for this piece—for me, they capture the essence of why we are captivated by stories, both written and oral:

The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in. —Harold Goddard

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. LeGuin

The universe is made of stories, not atoms. —Muriel Rukeyser

What about you? Do you enjoy listening to books or storytelling, or do you need to see the words on a page to get the full enjoyment out of a story?

War & Peace in Medieval Scotland

AP-avatar Cara/Andrea here,

Today, I'm welcoming my good friend and HWW Michelle Willingham back to the Wenches to talk about her new foray into history. Michelle's Medieval Irish heroes have captured the heats of romance readers and won critical acclaim, including a RITA nomination for Taming Her Irish Warrior in 2010. However, in her new series, which debuts in North America next month with Claimed By A Highland Warrior, she journeys into new territory, heading north and east to Scotland! The new setting naturally involved lots of new research and travel, and Michelle is here to share some of what she learned. So, without further ado, I shall pass the pen to her!

Claimed The Scottish Wars of Independence have been romanticized over the years, both with the stories of William Wallace (depicted in the movie "Braveheart") and the idea of the Scots fighting for their freedom from English rule.  I'll admit that I was drawn to the time period because of the raw, Highland warriors. 

Upon researching the wars, I discovered that English garrisons were set up all over Scotland to help Edward I gain an advantage.  The king laid siege to many castles, seeking to dominate and destroy Scottish rebels.  He used newer technology, such as a trebuchet he nicknamed "War Wolf" when they hurled large boulders at Stirling Castle in 1304.  Sulphur and saltpeter, the elements of gunpowder, were combined to help bring down the walls.

Scotland4 This past summer, my husband and I went on a research trip to Scotland. One of the things I learned about the UK is that their roads are NOT the same as U.S. highways. A location that's 100 miles away could very easily take four hours to reach. But despite our GPS (which mistakenly believed we were driving through a cow pasture), it was fun to brave the one-lane roads, taking our lives into our hands as we passed the tractors. I spent hours in the Edinburgh museum, photographing what artifacts I could and asking the guides questions about medieval weapons and clothing. Interestingly enough, the few surviving medieval artifacts were crosiers and other religious items.  There were almost no everyday pieces on display.  Perhaps the Highlanders valued their clan and the people more than "things," or perhaps they were primarily made of wood and didn't survive.

17640 A few times, we took the "scenic" route, where the streets had no name and the sheep wandered into the road. We stopped in places where there were no phone or power lines, and when we reached the Highlands, it was like going back in time.

Edonan Although the majority of the battles were not held in the Highlands, I chose to set my fictional clan, the MacKinlochs, a few miles outside of Glencoe.  This was partly because I wanted them to somewhat removed from the worst of the fighting, and yet, they would still have been faced with the English garrisons establishing minor fortresses to help Edward I.

Scotland-1 In Claimed by the Highland Warrior, the heroine Nairna MacPherson was married at the age of fifteen to Bram MacKinloch.  They spent only a single night together in 1298 before Bram's fortress was attacked by the English.  Young and hot-headed, Bram charged in to meet the enemy and was taken as a prisoner of war.

Deer In most cases, medieval prisoners were either ransomed or killed if they proved to be of no use.  But I wanted to create a longer separation between my characters, with years apart.  They needed to grow and mature from childhood sweethearts into a strong hero and a plucky heroine.  It occurred to me that the prisoners of war could be used as labor forces, to build stone walls around the English strongholds or possibly even more permanent structures.  And so, I doomed my poor hero to be imprisoned for many years alongside his younger brother Callum, as a slave to an English Earl. (Yes, I am a mean author. Yes, Bram is a tormented hero.  Who wouldn't be, if you had to lift rocks all day long?)

12742 When Bram is reunited with his wife, he's tormented by the nightmares of his imprisonment and his inability to free his brother.  He can't quite let go of his survivor&#3
9;s guilt, but Nairna helps him to overcome his past and they do fall in love again.

The story of a marriage reunion with a prisoner of war isn't a new one, but it offers so many emotional levels to explore.  What's it like when the man you married is now a virtual stranger?  How do you merge your life with his and try to make the marriage work when you haven't seen each other in seven years? 

I'm giving away a signed copy of Claimed by the Highland Warrior to one lucky commenter.  Just tell me, if you were separated from your significant other, what would you miss the most?  Or if you don't have someone in your life, what traits do you value?  For me, I'd miss the way my husband can look at me and sense what I'm thinking. That, and I'd miss him opening jars for me.<G> 

(1) Guest Michelle Willingham; (2) Black Thorne’s Rose


Honorary Word Wench Michelle Willingham returns on Friday, April 22!  Cara/Andrea will host Michelle's return visit.  Michelle writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon, in both medieval and Victorian eras.  Join us Friday and as we put out the welcome mat for Michelle!  (Hint:  rumor has it that Michelle might mention her Irish warrior heroes, should the subject happen to come up.


Exciting eBook News!

Susan King's very first historical romance, The Black Thorne's Rose, is finally available again — now in BlackThornesRose ebook form, newly edited by the author. This medieval tale of a highborn lady and a forest outlaw, praised as "glorious!" by Romantic Times, launched Susan in historical fiction. Check out the romantic adventure of Lady Emlyn and the mysterious Thorne on the following: 

Amazon Kindle

Nook at Barnes and Noble


And don't forget to visit Susan's Facebook page!