Holiday Schedule

X-ChristmasHolly2 Sherrie, here.  For the holidays, the Word Wenches have come up with a fun posting schedule that loosely incorporates the Twelve Days of Christmas.  In rotation the Wenches will make short daily posts on a variety of subjects, beginning December 25 and ending January 6.

Then, on January 7, Susan Holloway Scott will interview Sarah Gabriel (Susan/Sarah) regarding the release of Sarah Gabriel's The Highland Groom.

We invite you to drop by each day, with the promise of fun posts, audience participation, a chance to visit with your favorite Wench, and, as always, book give-aways.  Here's the schedule:

12/25 – Jo Beverley

12/26  Anne Gracie
 
12/27  M.J. Putney
 
12/28  Susan Holloway Scott
 
12/29  Sara Gabriel
 
12/30  Edith Layton
 
12/31  Anne Gracie 
 
1/1  Pat Rice
 
1/2  Miranda Jarrett
 
1/3  Sherrie Holmes
 
1/4  Susan King
 
1/5  Loretta Chase
 
1/6  Jo Beverley

Here's wishing you all Happy Holidays and happy blogging!

P.S.  Be sure to check out the Announcements sidebar on the right. Romantic Times has announced their annual nominations, and the Wenches made an impressive sweep. Way to go, Wenches! 

A Christmas grab-bag

.

Valchloesmall
Anne here, with a post about Christmas Downunder. I know it's early, but this is my last post before Christmas, so I thought I'd share my experience of the holiday season. The thing is, it's summer here, and yet for most of us, our Christmas traditions come from northern hemisphere winters. But what is Christmas without tradition?

It adds a kind of craziness to the whole thing, because we know we're supposed to have snow and sit around fires singing carols and drinking hot eggnog. But for us Christmas snow comes out of spray cans and we scrape it off the windows in the new year.

Instead of snow for Christmas we get flocks of parrots who come to feast in the fruit trees or pick through the grass for seeds and sweet roots. I just found an email from last Christmas, where I wrote this to a friend up to her ears in snow: Littlelorikeet
There's a hot north wind blowing, it's around 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Melbourne at the moment and the plum tree in my back yard is full of eastern rosellas and some kind of green parrot. They're clambering about, hanging upside down, screeching and fluttering as they gorge themselves on the ripe plums on the highest branches. And every now and then my dog (who is a fruit-loving dog and wants the plums for herself) barks and leaps about, and out from the tree bursts a flock of 20+  whirling, brilliantly colored parrots, who circle, then settle again. It's gorgeous to watch. I have plenty of plums for my own use, so they're welcome for the ones they get.

But it's not only the parrots who feast. Traditionalists, like my family, will usually have the full traditional baked dinner in the middle of the day, with roast pork, turkey, ham and hot vegetables, followed by hot steamed plum pudding with hot custard and/or cream. Pudding
Even if it is 100 degrees. And after the huge meal has settled, the oldies will snooze, and the younger ones will head for the beach… wearing red santa hats with white fur around the rim…

Part of my own family tradition is to start the Christmas feast with crayfish (lobsters). My grandfather was a keen fisherman after he retired and in the weeks leading up to Christmas he'd start catching crayfish and bringing them home to be kept alive in a big tub until Christmas morning. The crays often prised the lid off and would be found crawling across the garage floor, nippers at the ready. Invariably my brother would grab one and start chasing people with it.

Littleangels

As for sitting around fires singing carols, we do have rather a lovely variation on that — Carols by Candlelight. In small towns,big cities and suburban parks, people gather on Christmas Eve (though some places have it on different nights) and sit on the grass, light candles and sing carols. It's a secular, rather than a religious event. The evenings are usually warm and balmy and it's like a huge extended family picnic.
Here's a picture of two small angels –my nephews, singing unselfconsciously. And here they are again, halos slipping.  This is an old photo – they're all grown up now.Shaun&robbie

We always have a real tree and for many years it's been one my dad grew on some land we had. They're not as neatly shaped as the trees you buy, but there's a personal connection there and it's kind of fun, rigging up an uneven tree to make it stand. I love decorations and make a ritual out of unpacking them, and enjoying the associations various pieces have.

The lead-up to Christmas tends to be hectic, here, as it signals the beginning of the long summer holidays, so workplaces are finishing up their year's work, and getting ready for office end-of-work parties before they close down for a couple of weeks. It's the end of the academic year as well, so the kids are getting their certificates and putting on concerts and then they are home, needing to be entertained…

Which leads me into the theme I started two weeks ago, on holiday crafts. I've had a couple of people write to me saying they enjoyed making the projects I mentioned last time and did I have any more. So here are some more:
Here is a very pretty free downloadable snow papercut bookmark  Snowflakebookmark

Paper quilling (or paper filigree work) was a popular craft in Victorian times. It looks very complicated, but the foundation is simply rolled strips of paper. Victorian misses made beautiful snowflakes and other lovely ornaments from them.

Filigreeornament
 

Here's a site with some lovely patterns for Victorian Christmas ornaments

I've always loved jumping jacks and here are some sites with some wonderful downloadable patterns. How to make a jumping jack

Here's a jumping jack to print, cut out and assemble

A vintage santa jumping jack

An antique Dutch one here Paperdollchainsmall-1

Happy Holidays, everyone. This year I'm not doing the traditional big family  dinner on Christmas day — it's crayfish (lobster) and prawns and champagne on the beach for me! Followed by fresh cherries. I've cooked  one Christmas dinner for friends already — crayfish, oysters and prawns to start with, then roast pork (the crackling worked a treat) and roast potatoes, asparagus and green beans, then plum pudding with brandy-cream sauce, so that's it for cooking northern hemisphere traditional meals in southern hemisphere hot weather!
And I did all my present shopping on oxfam unwrapped, so hey ho — I'm freeee… 🙂 … to do my revisions 🙁

Throw a snowball or three for me, folks. We aussies are ridiculously romantic about snow — we don't get it except in the mountains in July, but our ancestors came from snowy climes and so we're brought up dreaming of a white Christmas, even as we pack up a picnic and head for the beach.

Question: what are some of your favorite holiday traditions? What's a treasured childhood memory of this special time of year?

A crafty approach

Valchloesmall
Anne here, with Chloe-dog, wishing all of you in the USA, happy thanksgiving, and everyone else happy weekend. Since the holiday period's starting up (shriek!) I thought I'd go with the holiday theme and suggest some simple pastimes and decorations to make – particularly for kids, and mostly using paper.

In the past, making decorations and finding creative ways to pass the time, especially in the evenings, were part of the pleasurable build-up to the holiday season. The suggestions below are historical  only  in spirit, I'm afraid. Most of the historical decorations I know about are quite complicated, but for this blog I'm pointing you at projects any child or beginner can do.

My mother was a whizz at this stuff — years of being an elementary school teacher meant that she could keep kids happily and fairly quietly occupied for hours on end. So whether you have little ones in need of some creative distraction, or if you're like me and enjoy this stuff, (even though I'm not very good at it) I hope you'll try some of these simple, fun projects.

Printable animal dominoes
Dominoes is a fun, multigenerational game. We used to make dominoes out of cardboard, using pictures from magazines, painting them ourselves or using stickers. A simpler choice is to go to this site, print off the animal domino patterns, hand the kids the scissors and let them go… And get ready to play when they're finished.Animaldominoes It's  a French site, but it's not too hard to navigate.
http://www.tomlitoo.com/mimprime/dominoferme/
Then click in the blue box on the left of the screen
planche 1   planche 2  planche 3

Paper dress-up dolls
I wasn't ever much of a doll person when I was a kid. I preferred real animals, and my most beloved toy was my teddy. But one Christmas I was given some paper dolls and I remember the fun of cutting them out and dressing them on wet afternoons.Sunbonnet
When I was doing some research for this blog (ahem, it's my excuse and I'm sticking to it)I came across some fabulous free paper doll sites. You can just print the dolls and hand them to the kids to start cutting.

Printable paper dolls. All kinds of dolls to print and cutout and play with — enough to last a wet week
http://www.origamibears.com/PaperDolls1/paperdolls1.html
On the left is a very sweet little paper doll found at
http://www.treasuresforlittlechildren.com/sunbonnet.jpg

Catladydoll

And for some really spectacular downloadable animal paper dolls, try these:   http://tinyurl.com/5s6fd4

Making decorations:

When I was small we made decorations every year. Some of those decorations lasted and were put out year after year, and some were fragile and temporary, but for me, the making was the fun part. I remember endless paper chains, simply strips of paper glued into a chain, easy for the smallest hands, if a touch messy. But here's a more complicated chain that's stunning and involves no glue, only paper and scissors. http://tinyurl.com/6q7qwx

Paperchains

For easy and elegant hanging decorations – http://tinyurl.com/5rxadg
They're just straight strips of paper with the ends glued or stapled. It's all in the measurement. Once you get the idea you can experiment, as I did here.

A Victorian Paper Swag
This is a very easy and effective swag decoration. Make several and join them together. 
http://www.victoriana.com/christmas/craft5-2000-1.htm

Popuptreecard

Making cards:
Home made cards are always lovely to send and receive. Here's a very doable pop up tree card. It would be great to do the tree in green and then decorate it afterward.
http://robertsabuda.com/popmaketreepiece.html
And here's a colored pop-up card all ready to print and assemble:
http://es.geocities.com/garridomaria/xtree.html

Annesangel

Paper Angel
Finally, here's the little paper angel my mother showed me how to make when I was a child. So simple, it's made of one piece of paper. No glue. All you need is a pair of scissors. Instructions (home-made in a hurry) are here:
http://www.annegracie.com/anne/angel.htm

Do you have favorite holiday preparation activities? Did you make things as a child? Do you make them now? Or does the prospect of holiday season loom horribly?
(And if you try any of these projects, let us know how it went. If you send me a pic, I'll put it on website)

Historicals I grew up with…

Valchloesmall Anne here, with my dog, Chloe supervising. That's a red feather boa she's wearing, by the way. She's a kelpie, a working dog, but strangely she likes feathers.

It's books and reading that incline a child toward writing, they say, and for me, at least, it's true.Though I was an outdoors active kid during the day, in the evenings I was a total book worm. I pretty much read everything I could get my hands on, but since this is a historical blog, I thought I'd share a few of the fabulous historical writers I grew up with.

Guy of Warwick012 The very first historical I recall was a little book called Guy of Warwick (and yes, I suspect I was the one who colored in those letters on the cover.) It was special because I got it when we were away from home and I had nothing to read. It was about a brave knight (Guy) who committed great acts of bravery (usually by wiping out the last of some endangered species) in order to win the heart of the cold Lady Phyllis. I was a picky romance reader even at eight, for I thought Guy deserved someone a whole lot nicer than Phyllis. But I still read it over and over.

Eagle9th Rosemary Sutcliff was the next historical writer I remember reading as a child. She swept me away into Roman Britain and to this day I love The Eagle of the Ninth (a story of Roman Britain and a young man's quest to retrieve the lost Eagle of his Father's Legion, the Ninth)

But the writer who truly thrilled and haunted me with his historical settings was a man called Henry Treece.

His books were called 'children's books' and certainly, in the libraries where I found them, they were shelved in the children's section, but they were bold, dark, confronting, fascinating books. They took me to places and times I'd never known, and brought Romans, Britons, bronze age tribesmen, Vikings, Ancient Greeks and more to life for me.

Rereading them, I can't believe they were called children's books. He didn't hold back, didn't soften or sanitize his books for the sake of young readers —there was blood sacrifice, sex, politics, and violence, all taken completely in context — not written to shock, just to evoke the times—he was a schoolmaster and a passionate historian. And evoke the times they surely did.

Here's a piece I read when I was 11 or 12 and never forgot. It's from The Dark Island — when Romans first come to pagan Britain. I'd visited Stonehenge some years before, when we lived in Scotland and were tourists every weekend, but it was this book—this scene— that truly brought the place to life for me.Treece-dark

The tribes have gathered and some Romans are there as guests of the chiefs. A group of boys —chieftains' sons—have sneaked up to watch a forbidden ceremony.

Suddenly an old woman began to call out and whine, "O King, it is my son on the stone before you. He did no evil. He loved the gods. Why must you take him, lord?"

The boys heard her start to cry and then scream; then she was silent and Beddyr looked with his wide black eyes at a gaunt soldier he knew and said, "What has happened, Pedair? Why is the old woman crying , then?"

The soldier, his eyes still fixed on the blood-stone, said, "It is nothing, Prince, only an old cockle woman selling her wares."

And before the boy could ask again, a group of black-haired Picts began the long, low, rhythmic moaning that is the prelude to their death-dances and a party of soldiers had to break ranks to quieten them down.

So the boys got onto their knees and tried to look between the legs of the chiefs, but they could see little.

"He's got red hair," whispered Morag excitedly.

"They always have," said his brother.

Then they shrank back, blinded for a moment by the sun's first long ray that struck inch by inch along the eastern avenue. And when they could see again, Caradoc said to his friend Gwyndoc, "I can see Father's feet. He's dressed like a druid."

"What's he doing?"

"He's pushing a stick into the red-haired one! No, it isn't a stick, it's a mistletoe stake! He's having to push very hard, the red one is wriggling so much!"

Then they became aware that they were enveloped by a great silence, that no-one, the length or the breadth of the plain, was speaking or moving, and they fell silent, too. And a strange sound came to their ears; it was quite like a hare when you tried to wring its neck and couldn't quite. Then there was sobbing and gurgling, and all over the plain people were gasping and moving and talking again.

[Henry Treece, The Dark Island]

Powerful stuff, eh? No wonder I devoured his books, even though I'm sure they gave me nightmares at times.

But shortly after I'd worked my way through all of Henry Treece, I discovered an author who affected me even more powerfully, though in a very different way. I wasn't haunted by her, her books weren't frighteningly real — they were pure, delicious fun!TOScover

Of course, I'm talking about Georgette Heyer. I borrowed These Old Shades from the adult section of the library on a dare. My friend Merryn and I were sure I'd be told off for such impudence, but to our amazement the librarian didn't turn a hair. We never looked back.

These Old Shades plunged me into a world of Georgian fabulousness, where men wore red high heels and jewels and powder, and yet were still thrillingly masculine—and a little bit sinister.  I was hooked. I practically inhaled all the Heyers in the library, giggling madly at Pel and Pom in The Convenient Marriage, and at Ferdy and his Nemesis in Friday's Child, loving the gallantry of The Mountain as he guarded his Prudence's sleep… and swooning at Damerel and his rose petal scattering habits… and I guess that stamped me as a romance reader forever more.Ladyquality

We moved to the city when I was fifteen, and I found a wonderful old second hand store, Berry's Antiques, that had tables full of books for 20 cents. I spent all my pocket money on those books and I gathered an almost complete collection of Heyers. I have them still, and reread them often; my favorite comfort reads.

I'm sure, if I hadn't read and fallen in love with Heyer's books and Heyer's world, I wouldn't be a romance writer today. Who knows, perhaps I might be writing dark historical novels…

What about you? What books did you love as a child? Were there books that confronted, and maybe haunted you? What were your first, beloved historicals?

We Have Winners!

A-WinnerOnce more, we trot out the happy lady on the left with her hands full of books.  Here is the latest batch of winners:

Nina Paules – wins an Edith Layton book

MJ Selle – wins an Anne Gracie book

Cheryl Castings – wins a Patricia Rice book

MJ Selle, you're the only one we haven't been able to reach.  Please send your mailing address to Sherrie so that we can get that book in the mail to you!

Congratulations to all the winners!