Ask-a-Wench: Why That Era?

Photo by Dariusz-Sankowski from Freerange Stock.

Susan here, with our Ask-a-Wench question for March: Why do we choose to write stories set in particular eras? Our books are set across time periods (including ancient Rome, Viking, Celtic Scotland, early and later Medieval, Tudor, Restoration, Regency, Victorian,  contemporary) and across genres (romance, mystery, historical fiction) and a range of locations too. We research deeply and know our eras and areas very well. We want our characters and situations to fit seamlessly into those time periods, and that takes work, dedication, and love for what we do!

Here are some thoughts on why we choose these times and places to set our stories:
What attracts you to the era(s) that you choose to write about?

Nicola says:  As with quite a few other authors, I started off writing Regency romance because I was totally in love with the period as it was conjured up by Georgette Heyer and others. The more I explored it the more I was fascinated by the era and its contrasts. There is a fairytale aspect to it as well as the appeal of a time when good manners and good behaviour were lauded, but of course like any period of history there was a dark side as well. I wrote one book set in the Edwardian era, which I was intrigued to find had strong parallels to the Regency.

I have a fondness for the Tudor period as well, probably ignited by the larger-than-life characters that dominate it such as King Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth. However, my favourite historical era is the seventeenth century. This is largely because of the influence of my work at Ashdown House which has totally drawn me in to the complicated and turbulent world of roundheads and cavaliers, and the terrible conflict of the English Civil War which tested people’s loyalties beyond their limits. That makes it a fascinating era to write about, full of courage and passion. Perhaps the fact that it is less popular or well known as the Regency or Tudor period also attracts me – so many more stories to uncover!

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By Mary Jo

In praise of daffodils:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils”  by William Wordsworth

One of the cool things about writing a blog is that it allows me to learn more about everyday things that interest me.  I’d started researching a very different topic for today when I stopped in my local Trader Joe’s and saw that they had bundles of fresh cut daffodils in their flower section.  They’re only briefly available each spring, but this year I got lucky on the timing, so I immediately bought two bunches. (The daffs above are the ones I bought, and they are still opening.)

I’ve always had A Thing about daffodils.  Where I grew up in the farmland between Buffalo and Rochester in Western New York, the winters were long and cold and very snowy.  I thought it was normal to walk between piles of snow higher than my head (though granted, I was shorter then!) The first real sign of spring was the sprouting buds of daffodils near our house so I particularly loved seeing them. Because they grow from bulbs, they come back year after year after year.But my fondness for daffs intensified during the two years I lived in England.  The English are great gardeners in general and they seem to have a special affinity for daffodils. In early spring, all the supermarkets I patronized had buckets of cut daffodils sitting on the end of the check-out counter.  Irresistible!  They arrived in late winter and I believe they were brought in from the Scilly Isles, which are off the southernmost tip of Cornwall.  The islands are surrounded by the Gulf Stream so their flowers bloom early. (Cut flowers image on right by Danielle Barnes on Unsplash)

At the time I lived there, a bunch cost 10p, equal to US 25 cents.  (To any English folk who might be reading here, do they still have those beautiful buckets of daffs in the stores, though surely at a much higher price!  Ah, I see in the photo that they’re now a quid per bunch.  Totally worth it.)

The genus Narcissus includes daffodils, jonquils, and the flowers that are also called narcissus, and they’ve been around for a very long time. They seem to have originally developed in the Western Mediterranean but they spread widely.  There are many, many variations of colors and size but the basic shape is six petals set in a circle with a trumpet coming out from the middle of the blossom.  Some trumpets are long, some are short like the paper whites, but they all look joyful. (Paper whites on left by Annie Pratt on Unsplash.)

The name of the genus is often associated with the famous Greek myth about Narcissus, an incredibly beautiful youth who disdained all advances from others and ultimately fell in love with his own reflection in a stream.  There are different versions of the myth, but one said he annoyed the goddess Nemesis who laid a curse on him so that he could never be loved by the one he loved; reflections in water aren’t going to give much back to a relationship so he dwindled away to a flower.  (It was never a good idea to annoy Greek deities!)

I think of daffodils as very British.  They’re the national flower of Wales.  (The other Welsh national plant is the leek, which makes for good eating. <G>) I’ve mentioned daffodils multiple times in my stories when I want to make a particular point. (Orange center flower on right by Yoksel Zok on Unsplash)

Flowers in general offer us beauty all year round. While daffodils are special to me, I like just about all flowers for their colors and uplifting presence.  Are you also enthralled by daffodils, or are there other flowers that are particularly special to you?  Let me know!  I’m willing to be enthralled by all kinds of flowers! (Daffs on left by Jason Mitrione on Unsplash.)

Mary Jo, who also has a weakness for the color and fragrance of lilacs…



Guest Interview – Alison Morton

Christina here and today I’m very pleased to welcome my friend and fellow author Alison Morton to the blog. She writes alternative historical fiction based on the Roman Empire, and her novels are all impeccably researched. Her latest book, EXSILIUM, has just been published, and I loved it! It’s a sequel to JULIA PRIMA but can be read as a standalone. Both these novels are set in the 4th century AD and are the historical backstory/prequels to Alison’s modern Roma Nova series, which starts with INCEPTIO (which I also recommend).

Welcome to the blog, Alison!

Thank you so much for inviting me here, Christina.

You’ve been writing about the Romans for quite a while now – when did your fascination with them start?

Alison at Ampurias aged 11

When I was eleven! I was mesmerised by a Roman mosaic floor at Ampurias, a vast site of a former Greek and Roman city in north-east Spain. I couldn’t stop looking at the beauty of the black and white pattern and the tiny marble squares. I babbled questions at my father, the Senior Roman Nut in our family: who were the people who lived here, what were they called, what did they do, where have they gone? And I still haven’t shaken the obsession decades later.

We are lucky in that a lot of Roman ruins remain all over Europe. Do you always try to visit the sites you are writing about?

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The Attempted Theft of the Crown Jewels!

The Other Gwyn Girl by Nicola CornickNicola here, delving into a historical mystery behind my latest book The Other Gwyn Girl. A number of people who have read the book have asked if the attempted theft of the Crown Jewels really happened or whether it was novelistic licence. Well, I can confirm it really did happen although the involvement of Rose and Nell Gwyn is my imagination filling in the gaps in history.

Here’s the story. In May 1671 a most extraordinary attempt was made to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Never before or since had anyone attempted such an audacious theft although over the years various parts of the collection had been lost, sold or destroyed. King John had lost some of them in the waters of The Wash in 1215 (that’s another story!) but the most notable loss was in 1649 when Oliver Cromwell ordered them to be “totally broken” as a symbolic step after the execution of King Charles I. Some items were sold off, others melted down and only the 12th century coronation spoon remained from the medieval period.

When King Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, he commissioned a whole new set of regalia from the royal goldsmith Robert Vyner for his 1661 coronation. As now, the Crown Jewels were stored in the Tower of London and people could view them by paying a fee to the custodian. In 1671 the Master of the Jewel House was 77-year-old Talbot Edwards whose domestic quarters were right next to the jewels in the Martin Tower (pic by Ethan Doyle White, Wikimedia).

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Tea, glorious tea

Anne here. Last week I invited a few friends around for afternoon tea. I got out my mother’s and grandmother’s tea sets and made a little ritual of it. Though I probably disgraced myself by using tea-bags instead of making it in a pot. I used teabags so that each person could have the strength they preferred as well as the kind of tea they preferred — one of my friends only drinks green tea and another only drinks herbal tea.

These days we take the supply of tea and a variety of teas very much for granted. But it wasn’t always so.

The use of tea first began in China, centuries ago, and was thought to be of medicinal value. A medical text describing its use was written in the 3rd century AD by a Chinese physician. Yunnan province in China is said to be home to the world’s oldest cultivated tea tree, some 3,200 years old.

Tea was introduced to Japan by Buddhist monks during the 6th century AD. It became a drink of the religious classes in Japan and Japanese priests and envoys were sent to China to learn about its culture.  The tea ceremony of Japan was introduced in the 15th century by Buddhists as a semi-religious social custom.

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