Barbie as Inspiration

Barbies twoChristina here. A little while ago the Wenches were discussing how we got into writing and whether we always wanted to be writers and had been making up stories since we were little. I didn’t, and it never occurred to me that I could be an author – I preferred to read other people’s stories. At home, though, I did an awful lot of daydreaming and I played with dolls all the time, particularly my Barbies. I made up different adventures and scenarios for them every day, almost always romantic ones. My Barbie wore her wedding dress so many times I ended up having to wash it frequently! I think that probably counts as the beginning of my author career and all those plots came in handy when I finally did begin to write.

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Crafty Skills and Writing Thrills

Joanna here with this month's question for the Wenches:

Do you have a hobby or handicraft that's important to you? Does it ever find its way into your writing?


Mary Jo sWench MaryJoPutney_RiverofFire_200pxays:

Alas, I am not crafty, except perhaps in my plotting.  I learned basic sewing as a girl and made some of my own clothes because that's what girls did in that time and place, but I wasn't enthusiastic about it, and I was a complete loss at handcrafts.  I botched cross-stitch and never mastered crochet and had zero interest in embroidery.  I did learn to knit in college because it was a way to keep hands busy when we sat around and talked, and I even managed a few large needle sweaters.  But they weren't very good except for basic warmth, and I haven't knit since I got out of college. 


 With the exception of young Bree, the hero's daughter in Sometimes a Rogue, my female characters aren't very interested Wench NotQuiteAWifeMMin handwork, though they can mend things as required. And now that I think of it, Laurel, the heroine of Not Quite a Wife, crocheted baby blanket squares while on a long carriage ride, but that was more because poor babies needed warm blankets.  I don't think she was much interested in crocheting for crochet's sake.  <G>  So I guess you could say that my lack of handicraft interest has made its way into my writing!


  On the other hand, while I don't have much gift for crafts, I have my share of interests.  As an art school graduate and a professional designer, art and design creep into stories, most strongly in River of Fire, where all the major characters are artists and don't know how they feel unless they have a paint brush in hand.  <G>  And I love music, though again I have no particular talent other than being able to do some research, but it's fun finding a four hand piano version of Vivaldi quartets on youtube, then telling my characters to take it from there.  <G>  A nice thing about writing is all the elements we can weave into our stories!


Nicola offers us music:

It’s interesting how many writers are also creative in other artistic fields. I have absolutely no talent for painting or drawing, or sewing, Wench Unmasked - US publishedknitting or making anything with my hands. As a child I did make patchwork cushions in my sewing classes at school and I was also passably good at cookery, which I think is another creative talent. However it was music that I loved and singing was a hobby of mine from childhood.


 I studied music at school and learned the piano and wrote some (bad) songs. I joined my school, college and church choirs and was also a member of a local choral society that toured Europe one summer. That was very exciting. My first love was always church music but I have tackled just about everything except opera! My singing tutor was a very fierce Scots lady called Mrs Buchan who had been a professional singer and was a very inspiring teacher.


 A number of characters in my books are musical and have good signing voices. Some of my heroines are talented at the piano or other musical instruments. When I am researching a book I do enjoy seeing which pieces of music were popular in the period and choosing something that my heroine might be singing or playing in the drawing room after dinner to entertain the other guests. In Unmasked, the heroine Mari gives away the secret of her ancestry by singing a Russian folk song.  When I write musical characters I am always reminded of Mary in Pride and Prejudice who loved playing the piano even though she had little aptitude for it, and her father saying: “You have entertained us long enough!”


Susan is musical as well as craftsy:



Writers and some kind of creative handiwork are a natural fit — the creativity often spills off the page and Wench susan 1into some other expression like arts, crafts, gardening and so on. And if we're not craftsy otherwise, we can scribble and type a mile a minute, and that's a talent of the hands if there ever was one! 



I went to art school, so for years I did paintings, drawing, prints and so on, even while I thought about stories. I haven't made art for years (though I do want to return to it), but I always have some kind of handiwork going. I try different things rather than stick with one, so I am master of none and explorer of many. I've done lots of crochet and knitting, and usually have a knitting project going; I've churned out throws and scarves and such, and keep it simple (I love big circular needles and soft yarns, and have no patience for small-stitch projects). I've done beading, basket weaving, needlework, sewing, collage, murals, scrapbooking — it often comes down to my degree of patience for the thing. I especially love to refinish furniture and paint rooms. My routine after completing a book usually involves painting walls or redoing furniture. Give me a ladder, a can of paint, some music and I'm happy.


Wench susan 2Some of the art has worked into my novels – I've written about a painter, an illuminator, a sculptor, an art historian and so on. I also wrote about harp playing after taking lessons in Celtic harp years ago. I loved it, and better understood long-ago harpers and harp music. That definitely helped when I wrote The Angel Knight, Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter, and if I write about a harper again, I'll dust off my Irish harp and tune it up!  
Cara/Andrea brings us:
I have an art background, so I’ve featured a both a heroine and a hero who was an accomplished Wenches A Diamond In The Rough-medwatercolor artist. But I’m also the Wench “jock”, as I enjoy sports as a way of relaxing. A while back, I took up golf—I’m pretty athletic, but it was one of the hardest endeavors I’ve ever tried— the swing may look easy, and the ball is not moving, but trust me, getting the timing right takes practice and patience! However I really enjoyed both the cerebral challenge and walking the course. After a day of writing, I love going out in early evening and playing a few holes. I can’t tell you how many plot tangles I have unraveled on the fairways. There’s something about switching gears and doing something physical that clears the brain synapses!
On a trip to Scotland, I visited the Old Course at St. Andrews, where golf was popular during Rgency times, and then was lucky enough to play a round with the Duke of Roxburghe, who is a passionate golfer . . .which got me to thinking! I decided it would be great fun incorporate my new hobby into a Regency romance. I did a little research on clubmaking (there are some wonderfully quirky clubs, like clerks and mashies fron that era) and then penned A Diamond in the Rough.The heroine is a great golfer but must disguise herself as a boy and work as a caddie to be allowed to play at St. Andrews. She’s assigned to teach an English lord how to play the game in order for him to play a match to win back his ancestral home, which his wastrel father has gambled away. And well . . . the game is on, in more ways than one.
Jo comes back with a very down-to-earth hobby:
Wench josgarden2Gardening. I'm not sure I've ever written a garden-obsessed character, but my books often have garden scenes and named plants with significance. My
characters are going to have gardens as most people in the past did until the
worst town developments of the 19th century, which led to the allotment
movement — an awareness that people, especially the poor, need a place to grow
food and also to have touch with the land and growing things.

Most of my characters are wealthy enough to have estates and gardeners, but they still take an interest. Interestingly, my book-in-progress, The Viscount Needs a Wife, has a hero and heroine who don't. They're both London people, not fond of the countryside, and know nothing about how to grow anything. I like to be different!

Anne says (and this is so cool. I had no idea about the dolls):
Wenches myWrapBraceletsI nearly always have some craft activity on the go, whether it's hand-made Christmas decorations, small things for dolls houses, or various kinds of jewellery. I'm more slapdash than meticulous, but I do enjoy making small things.
I used to babysit a friend's daughter on a regular basis and as a result I developed dolls house disease. I made lots of tiny things for a dolls house that one of my adult students had given me when she'd learned I was looking after a little girl and had No Dolls!!
It was a weekly ritual — my little friend would arrive, we'd get out the dolls house and the box of contents and set the house up from scratch — different every time. At the end of the day she'd tell me what new thing the dolls house needed, in that very cute imperious way three and four year olds have. "I think the dolls house needs. . . a dolls house." Or "I think next week the dolls will go . . . to the races. They'll need hats." This was after Melbourne Cup day and someone had been watching "Fashions on the Field" on TV. So I made hats for tiny dolls.
Currently I'm playing with jewelry. Fiddling with small things helps me concentrate and you'd be surprised Wwenches DollHathow often, while apparently concentrating wholly on a necklace or bracelet, I solve a plot problem. I go through stages with the jewelry, too. Not so long ago I was making things using natural crystals, which I love, but was sidetracked recently when a friend suggested I make a beaded leather wrap bracelet — and I was off and playing.
Few of these things ever find their way into my writing. I wrote one story, The Virtuous Widow, a Christmas novella that included a dolls house, and that was inspired by my little friend and our dolls house games — she's mentioned in the dedication. Nothing since then, but you never know . . .
Wenches pat rice wickedPat rounds us off with some wonderfully practical hobbies:
I garden and I fix up old houses, so I’m going to guess those aspects of my life creep into my books on a regular basis. I believe readers have upon occasion remarked that they know they’re going to get houses and kids when they read my books. Apparently I’ve disguised the gardening fever better. Even in Formidable Lord Quentin, when the characters have plenty of fancy London houses that need no work, my protagonists end up in a neglected rural mansion battling rodents and bird nests. We have the kids and horses in that one, but no garden.
I outdid myself in Wicked Wyckerly, though—the heroine owns a farm and gardens, the hero owns a truly neglected mansion AND townhouse, and we have kids galore. But I’m thinking children probably aren’t a hobby!
So. What about you? What hobby brings you joy and makes you more creative? If you were to write a book, which of your avocations would sneak into the text?
Some lucky commenter will win a copy of any of my books they choose.









A special gift

Anne here, hoping everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. 
I've been thinking about presents. When you're a child, the fact of the present is usually enough, but sometimes it's the meaning of the present that's important. Looking back at the presents of my childhood, only a few really stand out. Most of them I don't remember at all, and as for where they are now, that's anyone's guess.
  BookendsBut I still have the pair of marble horse-head bookends that my dad gave me one year, that combined my two eleven-year-old passions — reading and horses. (I actually wanted a real horse, but sadly that never arrived.) But this set of bookends was my first grown-up kind of present, and I was so proud to get them.

In several of my books I've had a young girl yearning for a doll. I'm not quite sure where this comes from — I was never a doll kind of child — I preferred living animals, and my teddy. But I suppose a doll stands for someone of your own to love, and I think we can all understand the kind of yearning a young, lonely girl might have for a doll. Dolls are symbolic in so many ways. BridebyMistake68kb
In my book, BRIDE BY MISTAKE — which hit the shelves on Tuesday  —  my heroine's father, having no son, worked his motherless young daughter her hard, training her to run the estate, and treating her as a boy. But one day he returns from a trip and Isabella spies a present in his bag…

Papa's bags were right there. The flap of one was open. Bella was tempted to peek.

What she saw took her breath away — a golden-haired china doll, the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen in her life, dressed in a pink velvet dress, with real lace, so beautiful it almost made her cry. 

Last time Papa had brought her a riding crop, beautifully tooled, and of course, Bella had been delighted, even if it was the kind of thing you gave a son. And she did love riding.

But this gloriously beautiful doll was for a daughter, a most beloved daughter. She didn't know what thrilled her most — the beauty of the doll, or that Papa had thought to bring her something so lovely, so special. It made all her hard work worthwhile.

Every detail of the doll was perfect, even down to tiny oval pink fingernails on her dimpled china hands. Her shoes were of palest pink leather, fastened with tiny pearl buttons, and she wore white stockings made of silk. The doll's eyes were bright blue, with long lashes made of real hair and they seemed to smile at Bella, like a friend, like a sister. 

She hugged the doll to her. She'd always wanted a sister. She would call her Gloriana. She lifted the dress to see what the doll wore underneath — and heard a sound at the door. Someone was coming. Quickly she thrust the doll back into Papa's bag and hurried away.

She would have all the time in the world to play with her doll.  

She changed into her prettiest dress and waited until dinner time with barely suppressed excitement.

"Have you been a good girl, Isabella?"

"Yes, Papa." She felt almost sick with anticipation.

"I've brought you something from the city. Do you want to know what it is?"

Her hands were shaking. "Yes, please Papa."

He handed her a parcel, square and heavy, too small to be the doll.  "Well, go on, open it."

She unwrapped it. It was a book; Equus, on the care and treatment of horses. Puzzled, she glanced at her father, thinking perhaps he'd played a trick on her and would produce the doll in a minute. "Is that all, Papa?"

He laughed. "No, of course it isn't all, now where did I put it?" And he started patting his pockets.

And Bella laughed with him, laughing too loudly in relief and delight that Papa had joked with her, when normally he was so serious.

"Ah, here it is." He pulled from his pocket a small twist of paper. 

Bella's laughter died. She eyed the brown paper twist. She knew what it contained and it wasn't a doll.

"Thought I'd forgotten your sweet tooth, did you?" He gave her the little packet of boiled sweets." Now, come and give your father a kiss and then run along upstairs with your treasures."

Were you a doll kind of child or were animals more your thing? Were you ever disappointed in a present, as Isabella was? Do you still love getting presents? On wordwenches we give our guests the most stupendous cyber gifts, no expense spared. If you could give yourself a stupendous gift, no expense spared, what would it be? I'll give a copy of my January book, BRIDE BY MISTAKE, to someone who leaves a comment.