My Herbage


Herbs 10

parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme tra la
Also a tomato plantReplotting  plant 2 June 2017

I will admit to being lazy about gardening, which in my case means herbs. I try to winter a few over, but even lavender and rosemary generally don’t make it through the cold on my mountaintop. And then, what with one thing and another, I’m never out with my hands in the dirt early enough to grow from seeds.

You know those folks you see out in the garden shops in May, (and June,) furtively buying pot herb plants? And overgrown miserable pot-bound tomatoes. That’s me.

So I’m transplanting my little herbs into larger pots in an apologetic way. I’m saying, “Look. I know your toes are cramped. I’ve been busy. Okay? Let’s just start over again, shall we?”

Their names are mint, sage, flat parsley, rosemary, lavender, oregano.


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Ask A Wench – Plans for 2017!

Crystal ball and boardPlans can be a wonderful thing. They can give us a shape and structure for the time ahead. At the same time we’re also all aware of the old saying “Man plans, God laughs.” The best laid plans, as Robert Burns pointed out, so often go awry. Today the Word Wenches are sharing some of their plans for 2017, writing and otherwise, and we’re asking you to tell us what you have lined up this year.

Pat: If I actually stopped to think about my plans for 2017, I’d probably run screaming for the nearest margarita. But I’ve learned if I just sit at my desk every day and pound the keyboard, eventually, it all gets Rice_TheoryofMagic600 done. My plans include releasing three more Unexpected Magic books in 2017, all of which are currently in various stages of development. We will not talk about all the editorial and promotional work that they need on top of the actual writing.

If I stay focused on that keyboard, I hope to have the final segment of the Genius mystery series ready by fall. I have five backlist Regencies in the computer, waiting for a final edit, covers, yadda yadda. So if you enjoy those old Regency stories, they’re coming. Eventually.And for those of you who follow my misadventures in moving, we’ve just sold another house and are tentatively looking around, wondering if we ought to tackle another. We’re not leaving this area, but once we run out of things to fix up, we get itchy for more DIY fun. So until that’s decided, we’re not planning any fancy trips. Yet. The son is showing an interest in New Zealand though…

Susanna here, happy to be starting 2017 closer to the end of my current work-in-progress, Bellewether, and hoping to be able to turn it in to my editors before the snow melts. Fingers firmly crossed. Then, in between the inevitable revisions and copyedits, I’ll be starting work on my very first ever novella, as part of the collaborative effort I’m doing with Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent, and C.S. Harris—a book of linked novellas (tentatively titled The Jacobite’s Watch) that follows an infamous, possibly cursed pocket watch as it passes from owner to owner over the course of two centuries, carrying secrets. With luck I might be finished that before I head to Portland for the Historical Novel Society’s American conference in June. I have some other travel lined up for the year—it’s mostly conferences: Atlanta in the spring for the Romantic Times convention, Orlando in July for the Romance Writers of America National conference, and Surrey, B.C., in October for the always awesome Surrey International Writer’s conference, but I’m squeezing in a research trip for the NEXT book as well, which should be fun. 

Black SwanAndrea/Cara: I should have asked Santa to bring me an extra 8 hours a day for the coming year as it already feels like 2017 is going to be a very busy time. I have a new Regency-set mystery series coming out—MURDER IN BLACK SWAN LANE releases in July—so there will be a lot of promo things to do. Not to speak of being deep in the throes of writing Book Two! I’ve also been delving deeper into indie publishing. I recently got the rights back to my Lady Arianna Regency mysteries and this month I re-released them in e-books, with new covers and a new low price. It’s been interesting learning the tech side of the business, and I’ve also enjoyed the left brain-right brain engagement of using my graphic design training to create my own cover designs. Also on the To-Do List is to finish the traditional Regency I’ve been noodling in my spare (!) time and getting that up sometime in late summer. Stepping outside the writing cave, another endeavor I’ll be spending time on is serving as a mentor/academic advisor to freshmen at my old college. It’s really fun and rewarding to work with students. Their energy and enthusiasm—honestly, the things they manage to juggle makes ME feel like a slug—is inspiring, and in turn I hope I can give some useful advice. Then lastly, there’s the Wish List—I’m hoping I can somehow swing a trip to London this year. I haven’t been there in quite a while, and I love exploring the city and all its wonderful small museums (like the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.)

Nicola: As 2017 begins, some plans are coming to fruition here whilst others are just starting. Ethel the guide dog puppy is heading Ethel bookshop off to training school next month and all being well will qualify as a fully-fledged guide dog this year. We are so proud of her! I’m completing my third dual timeframe novel, which will be out later this year. This one is set at beautiful Lydiard Park, near Swindon, and the entwined stories are set in the Georgian era and present day.

A role that’s likely to keep me busy from May is Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. I’ve been a member since I was first published 18 years ago and I am both honoured and a little bit daunted to be taking this on but I love the RNA and the way in which it supports writers and I will do my very best for it. Finally I’ll be first through the door when Ashdown House re-opens in April, eager to start my guided tours again!

Crystal ballSusan: This year I have lots of irons in the fire and they're starting to glow. I'm looking forward to the release of a new (new!) historical romance, and I'll share more about that in a few months. Just now I'm slogging in the dark, deep deadline tunnel with that one, head down, headlamp on. I've also got a couple of exciting fiction projects in the works that aren't ready for prime time yet, but will be fun to talk about once I have more details! At home, I'm thinking the walls need fresh paint, the basement needs clearing, and some of this Stuff needs to go with its rightful owners, our kids. I love change, so I'll be happily moving furniture and maybe swap whole rooms for the fun (and feng shui!) of it. There's definitely travel in my forecast this year, but that's still under discussion–not sure where yet! The next several months will bring lots of great surprises. Wish I could say more–where's that crystal ball . . .   

Anne: I'm going to be pretty busy in 2017. I've started a new series, and the first one, MARRY IN HASTE comes Marry in Hasteout in May. I'm also hoping to self-publish a couple of short e-books, only one of which is finished so far. I haven't self-published any books before, so it's a big learning curve for me. As well, I'm doing a bit of teaching — running writing workshops in Sydney, Brisbane, and in New Zealand, (see links on my website) and all of those will involve a bit of travel. With any luck I'll add a holiday to my New Zealand trip. It's a beautiful country, and though I've been there many times, it's always wonderful. As well, there are changes on the home front, and though I'm looking forward to the final result, the process is a bit daunting. Stay tuned.

Joanna here, nattering on about her plans for the year. It's a good time for me to be doing this. I just finished — well almost close to about finished except for the copyedits — Beauty Like the Night. This means most parts of my brain are leaning back and thinking around the edges of the next story.

This is the part of my process when I wander around bumping into things, trying to dream up new characters and new places. New adventures. I also talk the ear off anybody who doesn't flee in a determined and convincing manner, asking them things like, "If the protagonists are late teens is everybody going to think it's a Young Adult story?" and "Are you okay with a 'Happy For Now' instead of a 'Happy Ever After'?" and "Does this [insert fairly ridiculous premise] sound plausible?"

BulbsSo I'm planning on writing, of course, and planting bulbs and refinishing a black stone table that has become all scratched and carrying in lots of firewood and writing and finding some type of coffee I deeply admire and enjoy. These are not ambitious plans for refurbishing body, mind, and spirit but they suit me.

Mary Jo here, contemplating my plans for the year. I don't really make resolutions, but January does usually bring a sense of possibilities, and since it's generally a quiet month, a fair amount of work can be done.

For books, Once a Rebel, the long awaited story of the enigmatic Gordon, "Lady Agnes Westerfield's one failure," will be out in September, and I'm now gnawing away at the third book of the Rogues Redeemed spin-off trilogy.   Just in the last few days, I realized that the setting I'd thought I'd use for book 3 simply doesn't excite me.   It's worthy, important, blah, blah, blah, but despite research, I couldn't come up with a single spark of enthusiasm.

So I've jumped the shark into a completely new direction: new setting, new characters, now plot. <g> We want to be excited by our stories because we spend so much time with them!

In other bookly news, I'm trying to revert the rights to three more backlist series. Stay tuned! And this is the year I publish two or Gorgeous island
three backlist collections of my shorter works. Really.   I will!

On the private side, there will be a couple of cruises this year, one quite soon into warm waters and small islands, and a longer one this fall to far northern and much colder islands!

As for the rest of life this year–well, we'll see. New and unexpected things always emerge.   <G>

And now it’s over to you. Are you a planner or do you like to see where life takes you – or a bit of both? Do you have any exciting possibilities heading your way this year, or is a year of peace and serenity the nicest thing that could happen?

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.









Seed Catalogs

Burpee seed catalog

a season of catalogs

Joanna here, being topical.

My seed catalogs have arrived. This is the first sign of spring for me — not a sighting of the first robin — the sighting of the first seed catalogs. Now the truth of the matter is I don’t so much buy seeds and plant them. I live on stony, steep ground here and grow my plants in a few miserable little pots. But I dream with these catalogs. I meditate upon all the wondrous flowers and vegetables I’m growing in my mind rather than in reality.

Anyhow, this got me thinking about woman gardeners in 1800 or so. The eons’ old association of women and healing

Wenches ‘Catastrophe in the Conservatory’ by Thomas Rowlandson, c. 1816

our lady gardener is ANGRY

plants, edible garden herbs, and flowery borders made them natural gardeners. About at this time botany got an intellectual boots with the Linnaean system of plant classification. Thank heavens this was one ‘science’ considered suitable for genteel women. They began collecting plants and writing about them. We have pictures of these women carrying their watering cans — dressed in a way we’d consider problematic for gardening work — headed out to botanize.

I delight to imagine the glasshouses filled with interesting specimens and women tending and caring for them. Studying them. Learning how to grow the most troublesome of their charges. Describing the exotics. Writing, y’know, monographs and papers.

Not that it was easy for them to be taken seriously. I’m just going to mention here that the British Zoological Society and the British Entomological Society (—bugs, yipee —) admitted women in 1829 and 1833, respectively, the Linnaean Society didn't until 1904, which seems rather latish, doesn’t it?

The actual tilling of soil and sowing of seed, digging holes for the odd tree or bush, and pruning of ornamental shrubbery on an estate would fall to a band of hearty young men. The lady of the house would be in the enviable position of strolling through the aspen-studded woodland, past the ha-ha, and along the herbaceous border pointing out to Old Mr. Wenches fair florest Grim the Head Gardener where to put 250 yellow tulips. She wouldn’t so much do the work herself. It would be three or four generations past 1800 before kneeling down and weeding the bed of mangelwurzels would be considered a proper hobby for the well-to-do.

(Mangelwurzel, from German mangel ‘beet’ and wurzel ‘root’, moves into English along with the beets in about 1770. Now you know.) 

Now me, I like to get my hands in the soil and somewhat pity those distant forebearers who never had this pleasure. It's part of what I anticipate in the early days of spring. Like today.

What are you looking forward to with your plants this spring? Anything new and fun?

One lucky commenter will win a copy of one of my books — your choice    

Garden Bells

Wenches cloche copped colonial williamsburg attribe MizGingerSnapsIt's cold outside on the mountains today.  Last night it froze, amazing the poor silly daffodils.

I was thinking about how gardening folks dealt with these early, cold, unpredictable springs in Georgian and Regency days in England when greenhouses or hothouses were fairly rare and expensive. 

Wenches terrac ota cloche modern cc attrib jo-marshallThe English had a characteristically common-sense solution.  They used what we call a gardeners cloche.

Cloches were sort of a poor man's mini-greenhouse.  They could hold about one plant, so you needed a goodly number of them.  You had to keep an eye on them so as not to scorch a delicate plant in the sun.  Keep another eye on to guard from moisture build-up and mildew.  But, oh, how useful.  Cloches didn't just protect against the cold, they held in moisture and kept the wind out, they stand between the tasty succulent little plants and birds, deer, slugs and such hungry beasts like that. 

 The name 'cloche' comes from the shape of it — it's the French word for 'bell'.  In fact, when these glass shapes lived inside in a somwhat less robust form, our historical people called them 'bell jars'. Wenches cloche cc attrib smabssputzer

 These glasses seems to have reached England from French early in the 1600s.  In our Georgian and Regency times, cloches joined cold frames, forcing boxes of many kinds, terra cotta cloches and even woven baskets, in keeping plants warm and safe across the British Isles.

I think kindly of these homely glass hats sitting in the midst of our protagonist's kitchen garden.  How pretty, and how unexpected to come across while sneaking out to adventure in the early light of dawn.

attrib: coldframesmabsputzer; terracotta jomarshall;
cloche Mizgingersnaps' pair of cloches MaggieMcCain Wench cloche colonial williamsburg attrib Maggie McCain


What do you remember from some childhood garden in the spring?
          What are you going to admire and use in your garden this next month?