Tudor Passions

Wolf hallNicola here, talking about the Tudors. A few days ago I read an article about the huge number of historical fiction books set in the Tudor period. The author was suggesting that it was time to move away from the wives of Henry VIII and choose some different historical periods and characters to write about. Even Hilary Mantel, with her Booker Prize winning Tudor set novels is saying that we have reached “Tudor peak” and that the market is saturated.

As someone whose next book is a dual time period novel set in the present and… Yes, the Tudor era, this left me with mixed feelings. As a young reader, before I discovered Georgette Heyer and the Regency period, I had been drawn into reading historical fiction through the Tudors. My wonderful school history teacher, Mrs Chary, had brought alive the history of the period by telling it to us as a story and there was plenty to engage us.

Read more

The Return of English Saffron

SaffronNicola here. Today I am talking about one of my favourite spices, saffron. I absolutely love saffron flavouring in my food and when I read recently that saffron was being grown in England for the first time in 200 years I was quite excited. English saffron tastes different from imported saffron. It has a honey sweetness and scent that offsets saffron’s slightly bitter under taste. This adds a very distinctive flavour to all sorts of recipes from those involving fish to cakes and even potatoes.

 Saffron is obtained from Crocus Sativus and it was once
a flourishing industry in England. In 1597 Gerard wrote in his Herbal "Saffron groweth plentifully in Cambridgeshire, Saffron Walden and other places thereabouts as corne in the fields". 

Read more

DrakenHowdy from the snow-dusted mountain of Joanna.
The Ask A Wench question for November is:

"If you were writing a Historical Romance set in an unusual place and time — and you didn't have to worry about sales — where would you choose and when and why?"


Mary Jo has not only thought of writing about some of these exotic places. She's done it.

 As a kid in the classroom, I used to gaze at the map racks hanging from the blackboard, and I was particularly interested in the vast, empty tracts of Central Asia.  What was there?  How interesting it would be to visit!  So when I started to write, I thought it would be really cool to write a book set in Central Asia.

Oh, wait!  I did.  The book is called Silk and Secrets, and it was loosely based on a real rescue mission to Bokhara in the 1840s by Dr. Joseph Wolff, an eccentric Anglican missionary.  Wonderful material in his memoirs.  The last in that trilogy, Veils of Silk, was set in India, with adventure and mystery and romance.  But India isn't quite so far off the beaten path, historical romance wise.

Well, China could be interesting.  So very different from Western Europe, with an ancient civilization and an aura of mystery. Err…, I wrote that in The China Bride,  with a Chinese/Scottish heroine and an English hero with an explorer's heart. 

Read more

Women Behaving Badly – the adventures of Moll Cutpurse

RSC Roaring GirlNicola here. Last week I had the fabulous treat of a trip to Stratford-On-Avon to see the play “The Roaring Girl,” written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, who were contemporaries of William Shakespeare. The poster for it is on the left. I love the Swan Theatre at Stratford; it is small and intimate with the stage projecting into the audience and a three-sided gallery. You feel transported back to the sort of theatre that 17th century audiences would have visited, though probably these days we have more comfortable seats.

The Roaring Girl is the story of a character called Moll Cutpurse. The name Moll is a pun: as well as being short for Mary it was a word used to describe a young woman of disreputable character who has a reputation as a thief or “cutpurse.” The phrase The Roaring Girl is more often used to refer to “roaring boys”, the gallants who got drunk in taverns, roistered about London, got into fights, smoked, and generally behaved badly.

CosmoThe ideal modest woman of the 17th century was described in one conduct book as someone whose “home is her delight, at public plays she never will be seen and to be a tavern guest she hates.” Moll most decidedly does not fit this image with her men’s clothing, her smoking, drinking and swordfighting. Yet the play, written in 1611, is surprisingly sympathetic to Moll. She is portrayed as a woman determined to be her own person in a society that demands conformity. It can be construed as a proto-feminist piece. Moll is called a whore by those men who disapprove of her behaviour and want to control her, yet she is shown to be honest with a more powerful sense of morality than those who try to entrap her.

Read more

Storytelling – Big Oaks from Little Acorns

Nicola at BoscobelNicola here. Today I’m reflecting on the sorts of story ideas that catch our imagination. Last week on my way to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference I called in at Boscobel House in Shropshire to do a spot of research. Boscobel is the house where King Charles II hid from the Roundheads after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The story is very famous; hunted by Cromwell’s soldiers in the aftermath of the battle, Charles took refuge in an oak tree in the forest that surrounded Boscobel and he and his officer Captain William Careless (not the most confidence-inspiring name!) slept in the branches whilst the Roundheads scoured the forest around him. Later, cold, wet and in low spirits, Charles was taken to Boscobel House where he took dinner, dried his clothes before the fire and slept in a hiding place in the attic.

Read more