Welcoming Summer

Christina here. So apparently summer has arrived in the northern hemisphere even if it doesn’t really feel like it much! Last week was May Day which is supposedly the beginning of summer, and it has been celebrated in various ways since ancient times. Most of us don’t bother to mark it these days, but in the past it was important as it heralded the warmer months to come.

One of the earliest known celebrations was Floralia, the Roman festival of Flora, goddess of flowers, spring and fertility. This took place during the last days of April and the first of May and included the Ludi Florae, the special “Games of Flora” that lasted for days.

Floralia – Hobbe Smith 1898

The festival was all about pleasure-seeking and was plebeian, rather than patrician as most other festivals were (even prostitutes took part). There were various spectacles like theatrical performances and other entertainments and it all sounds like great fun! (If you want to know more about Roman spring celebrations, check out this post on Alison Morton’s blog.)

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More than England…

Cruise map

by Mary Jo

In casual conversation, the words “Britain” and “England are often used interchangeably, but in fact the two things are very different.  We’re just back from a Viking cruise called “The British Isles Explorer,” which really highlighted the difference.  The British Isles are a sprawling archipelago of islands sized anywhere from uninhabited rocks to full sized nations. The largest island is Great Britain, which includes England, Scotland, and Wales.

V&A courtyard

The second largest island is Ireland, which includes the Republic of Ireland and Northern Island. The latter joins with England, Scotland, and Wales to become the United Kingdom. As the route map shows, the cruise also included two island groups with strong Nordic ancestry, Orkney and Shetland.  So the British Islands Explorer cruise includes a lot more than England!

Nonetheless, we started with 3 days in London because why cross the Atlantic to the UK and not spend time in London?  So we did.  The Mayhem Consultant chose the lovely Rembrandt Hotel, which is literally across the street from the famous Victoria & Albert museum, which holds the world’s largest collection of applied arts and designs.  It’s so vast that all one can do is nibble at it. We visited

Regency furniture

the 18th century area which included Regency style furniture.  We also admired the pool in the central garden, in which kids splash in warmer weather. (We had sunshine through the trip, but it was not particularly warm.)

On our previous visit to London, the  Mayhem Consultant had spotted big red double-decker buses that offered Tea on the Bus.  I had some doubts as I envisioned buses slamming on the brakes in heavy traffic and sending tea and cakes flying.

Tea on the Buss

But Bridget’s Bakery was much smarter than that. The very solid tables were built into the bus and there were wells to cradle the insulated tea beverage holders.  The racks that held the food were also heavy enough to be stable, and as you can see, each one held a LOT of foods, both savory and sweet.  Most guests ate about half and little carry-away boxes were supplied for leftovers.  The food items were also designed for eye appeal (or possibly eye shock. <G>)  For example, the green globe with a pink icing cap was actually a very tasty cream puff.  Savory items included sandwiches and a small quiche, among other things.

Us on the bus

So if you’re in London and in the mood to be well fed and totally touristy, try Tea on the Bus!  They have several routes with different pick up points. Since we are indeed tourists, we chose the route that started just off Trafalgar Square.  The tour took about an hour and a half and drove by a number of London’s most famous sites, like Westminster Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.

After seeing the sites and visiting some friends, we went off to Tilbury to board the Viking Venus. 

Tilbury port at sunset

Tilbury is due east of London along the Thames River and is a major deep water port on the North Sea. I took this picture of container cranes silhouetted against a dramatic sunset.

I’m running out of time so I’ll stop here, but I’ll talk more about the actual cruise on future  blogs.  For now, let’s share a cup of virtual tea!

Model royal coach in the V&A

Mary Jo

 

Model Villages!

Nicola here. A couple of months ago I stayed in a model village. It wasn’t the sort I used to love as a child and still find quite charming, the miniature houses and tiny streets. This was a full-sized village built by a wealthy landowner for fun. And it was very interesting but also quite odd.

There are a number of different sorts of model villages in the UK and I’m interested to know if it’s the same in other countries, so perhaps someone can tell me if you have them where you are. As I mentioned, when I was small, I adored the tiny reproduction villages such as the ones at Blackpool and Bekonscot, loving the little houses, castles, shops and people. Almost always they would have a working train set, which made it even more fun. And of course, because the miniature village is so small, even as a child you feel like a giant! On one memorable holiday in Holland, we also went to Madurodam, the Dutch model village in The Hague built in 1952, which was so exciting I remember it to this day! And in the photo here you can see our old dog, Angus, enjoying the miniature village just up the road from us at Faringdon.

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Labyrinths

Anne here, and today I’m not going to talk about my upcoming book (for a change) but about labyrinths, because tomorrow (4th May) is World Labyrinth Day.

Quite a few people use the words ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ interchangeably, but they’re not the same at all. I also thought they were the same thing with different labels until many years ago I read Mary Jo’s The Spiral Path, which made the difference quite clear, and since then I have become fascinated with labyrinths.

The difference between a maze and a labyrinth.

A maze contains many different pathways toward the centre, dozens of which have dead ends. A maze is designed to be confusing and difficult, and if you’re persistent (or know the design) you will be able to reach the middle.

A labyrinth, on the other hand, has only one pathway — you can’t go wrong. You start at the beginning and follow the path, which although it may double back and have you going around in circles will inevitably lead you to the centre.

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Joan Wolf: 53 Novels, 52 Years Married & Still Going Strong

How many romance authors can say they taught a future Supreme Court justice? Joan Wolf can. Read on for a great interview, but first, some background….

Hi there Wench readers! I’m Susie Felber, a writer, performer and the daughter of Edith Layton, a Wench who left this earthly plane in 2009. If you want to know more, I did this post on Word Wenches in 2019, and that post has links to others posts I did 10 years before that.

Joan Wolf

But this is not about me. This is my interview with Joan Wolf, a prolific and wonderful author. She was a dear friend to my mother — they bonded over the Yankees, Judge Judy, and mostly, their shared love of reading and writing books. And she’s been a friend to me for the many years mom has been gone.

Joan did an interview on the Word Wenches blog in 2009. It’s great! But this one will be a bit more personal and will dive into pieces of her past — some of which even I didn’t know, and I’ve known her since the 1980’s, back when I would accompany my mother to Romantic Times conventions in New York City. Ah the RT conventions! I adored the bags of free books, and really enjoyed being a fly on the wall as I got to hang out with romance authors from across the country — all so smart, funny, and progressively louder as they enjoyed wine and the joy of actually meeting their peers in a world before social media.

So, here’s the interview. Get to know Joan Wolf via my conversation with her, and I’m sure you’ll become a fan too.

***

OK so… the other day you casually dropped into conversation something about how you were working on your PhD. How did I never know you were going for your PhD before you became an author? Can you explain what it was in, and why you aren’t currently “Dr. Wolf”?

JW: I never had any cards printed to tell people I was a Ph.D. candidate. After I got my M.A. in English and Comparative Literature, I enrolled in the Fordham University doctoral program. I went part time — while I was teaching and traveling around Europe every summer — and I accumulated all of my credits. I even had a doctoral dissertation topic approved on the father-daughter relationship in Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a great topic. If anyone is looking for a dissertation idea you’re welcome to it.

Joan & Joe’s kids being adorable

I didn’t get to write it because I got married. Joe was just home from Vietnam and he got a job teaching economics and history at my school. We met and we clicked. We bought a house in Connecticut and commuted to the north Bronx. Believe it or not, there was hardly any traffic on 95. We had a half-hour commute. Unbelievable. We had a baby and I quit my teaching job and stayed home — that’s what we did in those days. At first I thought I could finish my dissertation while the baby napped. I even got a library card for the Yale library. I thought I could write during the baby’s nap time… I can hear all of you mothers laughing. But I was bored and lonely and I read a few romance novels. Romance was becoming so popular that I thought maybe I could squeeze in writing a novel while the baby napped. I picked the regency period because I adored Georgette Heyer’s books. And I wrote that book – The Counterfeit Marriage — on my kitchen table while my son napped. I found an agent and he sold the book to NAL with a contract for two more. A career was born.

OK. So I know many authors who were teachers before becoming novelists… but you are the only one I know who once taught a future Supreme Court Justice! Can you tell us where you were, what you were teaching, and your memory of that sitting justice? Editor’s note: we are talking about Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Joan’s AP student

JW: Sonia was in my A.P. English class at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx. I remember that class very well – not just Sonia but the others too. It was a great class to teach — everyone contributed. After all these years I can still remember Sonia’s comment on Hamlet. As some of you might remember, the whole play revolves around Hamlet’s failure to kill his uncle, the king. The ghost of his father has appeared to him and commanded him to kill his uncle, who has married Hamlet’s mother. Hamlet says he will do this, he talks about it — all those great soliloquies — but he never even tries. The Big Question all scholars ruminate about is: why doesn’t Hamlet obey the ghost and kill his uncle (who has also stolen the throne from Hamlet). There are a ton of theories on this but I think Sonia said it perfectly: Hamlet’s whole world has collapsed around him. Everything looks dirty and ugly to him. His mother, whom he loves very much, has married his uncle. The man who killed his father. He imagines them together and is disgusted. What good will come of murdering his uncle? Will the world look cleaner? Will his mother look virtuous? Part of him thinks he has to do this but the deeper part of him knows it will change nothing. I’ve seen many Hamlets and this interpretation is a challenge. I think Tom Stoppard was the best I ever saw. However, the REALLY best Hamlet I ever saw was Richard Burton. He didn’t interpret anything. He just spoke those fabulous words. That voice! It was the greatest Hamlet I’ve ever seen — and I have seen quite a few.

You mentioned that when you started writing it was at the library? And you paid for babysitting to do it? Maybe I’m getting it wrong but… what were your early days writing novels like while also balancing motherhood.

JW: Yes, after I got the contract for two more books — and got the advance in money as well — we could afford to pay for a babysitter. I no longer had to try to squeeze my writing in between naps, which kept getting shorter and shorter. There was a lovely teenage girl living next to us and she came after school to babysit for Jay and then Pam and I went to the public library from 3P to 5P to write. In longhand. Then I had to type all of those pages. No one was happier to see the computer than I was. You could actually correct your mistakes right on it!

You have been married a long time. And I know Joe, and he’s just the sweetest, smartest man. As you do know a thing or two about “happily ever after”, can you tell us a little bit about the man who has supported your career for so long?

JW: Joe and I have been married for 52 years. He is such a lovely man — he’s like my dad was. A great family man, a great husband, a great father. Here’s a story that will show what I mean. When he was in high school the basketball coach asked him to try out for the team. Joe is a good BB player and he loves the game. But he knew his mother was home with five other kids and she needed help. So he didn’t try out for the team. He left school every day and went home to help his mom.

You mentioned re-reading an old book of yours recently and saying how good you thought it was. I can’t remember which one it was… can you tell which one and what the experience is like to read your own stuff after many years down the line?

JW: The book was a regency — The Gamble. I hadn’t read it since it was written and I had such a good time. I really liked the characters. I thought I had hit a home run.

I remember seeing you for the first time in the hotel lobby at a Romantic Times conference held at the Vista hotel… at the base of the World Trade Center. It was the mid-80’s? My mother wanted to talk to you but she was a newer author and she was shy and scared of you… she admired your writing and was worried because you looked so polished and confident. You were sitting alone and I had to push her to talk to you. You were instantly happy to talk, and it started a lasting friendship. So I never asked… are you a confident person? Do you feel shy in social situations? I mean you rode horses… you gotta be confident for that, right?

JW: I think I am a fairly confident person. I was the oldest of four sisters so I am used to taking charge. It seems that every committee I join, I end up chairing it. However, I was as happy to see your mother as she was to see me. I still miss her very much. We shared so many things with each other.

Can you name a few of your personal favorite books that you’ve written?

Regencies — The Guardian (finalist for best regency of the year) A London Season, The Pretenders, The Gamble. Really fun regencies to write. And to read!

Books other than Regencies, my books that are special to me:

Foreword by Wench MJP!

Daughter of the Red Deer (prehistoric) Fascinating to research. What these people did with stone and bone and antler is absolutely amazing. It’s also a really good love story.

No Dark Place and The Poisoned Serpent — my medieval mysteries. I never had so much mail as I did for these two books! People were begging me to write another Hugh de Leon book!

A Reluctant Queen – the biblical Story of Esther. I loved writing this book. Such an interesting place: the Persian Empire. And no hero is more fascinating than Ahasuerus, the King Esther married. I turned it into a great love story.

My absolute favorite books, the books I am most proud of, the books I would like to be remembered for – are my Dark Ages Trilogy: The Road to Avalon, Born of the Sun and The Edge of Light. Actually, I am kind of awed that I wrote them. None of my other books have the place in my heart that those books have.

Editor’s note: Book 1 of Joan’s Dark Ages Trilogy is now only 99 cents to help you dive into the series. And it has a forward by Mary Jo! So you know you need it!

You recently got a letter from a fan in Germany that you shared with me. The one who wrote it is also an author herself and she told you she has this adorable AirBnB. It must feel amazing to learn that you inspire and entertain in other lands. Followup Q: can we have a road trip to that AirBnB? Please? 

JW: It is so much fun to get fan mail from translations of books I have written. A lot of the time I can’t recognize what book it is from the cover so I have to page through it looking for the names of the characters — they don’t change them!

Editor’s note: Joan did not take Susie up on her request for a road trip to German countryside! Haaa. PS The editors notes are also by Susie…

I know your charitable work is very important to you but I also know that you never brag about it! Can you tell me about the charity work you’ve done? 

Joan & Joe plus adorable gown up kids

JW: I do believe in the commandment that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, so I have gotten involved in a few different charities. Two charities from church are close to my heart. For 12 years Joe and I ran the St. Mary food pantry. We opened every Sunday after the masses were finished and we didn’t ask too many questions. If people needed food they got it. I made house visits when they were necessary. I even got an award from our local United Way for “Meeting Critical Needs.” Our parishioners are incredibly generous and kind. If I put a piece in the weekly bulletin about needing hot soups, we were inundated. After 12 years we retired and another couple stepped up. The pantry has expanded tremendously under them. My heart smiles when I see what they are doing. I took a break for a few years but when it was announced that the parish was ‘adopting’ a parish in Haiti I joined that committee as well (and somehow ended up as chairman). We can’t do much for Haiti at the moment now, however. That whole scene is just tragic — and they are the nicest people.

I also support the ASPCA, the Humane Society and the Thoroughbred Retirement.

What will the next book be? You said you have an idea percolating. Just a hint would be great!

JW: I’m thinking about an American girl whose mother was the daughter of a duke… the mother eloped to Boston with her father. Father dies. Mother makes the trip back home and takes her daughter with her. That’s what I have right now.

I’m excited for it! Write on! 

For pics of Joan’s adorable dog Mimi, book news and more…

Follow Joan on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/authorjoanwolf

Or sign up for her free newsletter: joanwolf.authornewsletters.com/?p=subscribe&id=1

Susie here… I just want to say thank you to Joan for the interview! I love you and feel so lucky to know you. And so many thanks to The Word Wenches for their always interesting, smart and personal content. I’m a longtime reader and I’m never disappointed. You give a window into the life of authors and you help people learn. Also thanks to the Wenches for widening the circle — it’s so cool how you support authors outside of your blog circle — and even support the daughters of authors who have passed on. I love you all.