July What We’re Reading

Christina here with a round-up of what the Wenches have been reading this month. This is a truly varied selection and I hope there will be something for everyone and that you find something that appeals to you. I’ve already clicked on a few things myself …

My own favourite reads this month were the two new Wench books – The Crystal Key by Patricia Rice and The Rake’s Daughter by Anne Gracie.

Crystal KeyThe Crystal Key is the third book in the Psychic Solutions Mystery series, and these stories just keep getting better and better. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, which broadened the cast and built on the previous books in a most satisfying way. Ghostbuster Evie Malcolm Carstairs has finally got together with gorgeous lawyer Jax Ives and they are raising their ward, Loretta, together while trying to make ends meet – her by speaking to ghosts and him by setting up a new law practice in the tiny town where they live. When Evie and her hacker team at the Sensible Solutions Agency take on a new case that involves a dead former FBI agent – an old lady who had been poking around in things she shouldn’t have – and a potential murder, things start to heat up. Jax tries to keep Evie out of trouble, but she has her own way of dealing with things and doesn’t think she needs his help. He wants to do things the proper way while Evie and the others don’t always take the legal approach. Add to that the fact that his reclusive sister Ariel starts to help his best friend to uncover a major scamming network run by some seriously unscrupulous people – while slightly coming out of her shell – and he has his work cut out for him making sure everyone is safe and the bad guys get their come-uppance. With a huge cast of crazy but wonderful characters, this is a fabulous story that kept me turning the pages. I can’t wait for the next book in the series to see what will happen next!

Read more

Lyveden New Bield – Visiting “An Interrupted Dream”

Lyveden 1Nicola here, with another of my summer historic house travelogues. I finished my latest manuscript a week ago and in traditional fashion celebrated by cleaning the house and doing some ironing. As regular readers of the Wench blog will know, this is the time we all catch up on the thousand and one things that get neglected whilst we are in our writing caves desperately trying to get to The End. Much as a city break in Europe or even a trip to the seaside might sound nice, it’s usually the mundane things that claim our attention, partly because we don’t have energy left for much else but also because we urgently need some clean clothes.  However, when my husband tempted me with a visit to one of my favourite historical sites, I felt a lot more enthused for that than for ironing! So it was that on a baking hot day we set off very early in the morning for Northamptonshire and the intriguing Lyveden New Bield.

Lyveden, like so many country houses, occupies an isolated position. It’s set Lyveden deckchairs the middle of the glorious Northamptonshire countryside and as you approach, you see what looks like a ruin standing alone in a field. It’s an extraordinary sight. The house was the dream of Sir Thomas Tresham, a Tudor knight who was a staunch Catholic. He was a wealthy landowner who moved in the highest social circles in the county but although he was ruthlessly efficient in managing his estates to produce profit, he was also very extravagant and pursued a lavish lifestyle. It was, however, the heavy fines levied on him for following the Catholic faith that were eventually to lead to his financial downfall.

Read more

Out in the Georgian Country Garden

PheasantNicola here. The recent hot weather in the UK (3 hot days and a thunder storm, as the old adage suggests) has given us lots of lovely opportunities for being outside, whether sitting reading a book, eating, or doing some much needed gardening. Two hundred years ago if I had been sitting in this spot it would probably have been a vegetable garden and pen for the pig. The cottage would have been newly built, two rooms up, two down. It looked out across a rough track rather than a paved road, and there was a stream that ran down the side of the road and into a pond at the bottom of the garden. The villagers dumped their waste there; lots of pottery has been found in the dried out pond bed.

In those days people living in this sort of worker’s cottage had precious little time for leisure or for growing flowers for pleasure. Garden They grew food and kept animals to live on, and their existence in the village was a communal one with one well (now in the garden of Spring Cottage.) You would need to go further up the social scale to find a cottage or “villa” where there was a garden designed for relaxing in. The doctor and the vicar would have that sort of house in this sort of village; their wives and daughters did not need to work and the garden was a social space. Those houses look pretty big to us today and cost a fortune to buy but in the Georgian era they were the homes of the lesser gentry and though there might be time to sit around drawing or growing flowers, the lady of the house would still learn all about seed planting and making herbal medicines alongside her other house hold duties.

Read more

Strawberry Hill—a Gothic Masterpiece!

Wheatcroft_1-022516Andrea/Cara here, It’s the height of summer here, and as I stare out my window at the small swatch of greensward and flowering shrubbery in my backyard, I can’t help but fantasize about the Regency-era ritual of the country house party. Imagine rolling through the gates of a grand estate, with acre upon acre of gardens, woodlands and waterways to explore by day. And a grand manor house in which to enjoy sumptuous meals and evening entertainments amid impressive furnishings and fabulous art . . .

13590357_1099341493444871_2103040095411232787_nWhich got me to thinking about which of the stately homes in England would have been the most fun to visit. I didn’t really have to ponder the question long—now, I know many people would choose Blenheim or Chatsworth, but for me, an invitation to Strawberry Hill would have had me packing my ballgowns in a heartbeat. I mean, how could any romance author resist the chance to hobnob with Horace Walpole, creator of The Castle of Otranto—considered the book that created the genre of the gothic novel! As for his self-designed residence and gardens—he called his enclave Strawberry Hill—well, read on!

Read more

Of Shells and other Garden Decorations

Forest 1A few months ago we visited Hatfield Forest, which is a rare survival of a medieval royal hunting forest. I love woods and forests because they so often have a real sense of history; the ancient trees like living sculptures, the sense of timelessness that you get when you walk between them.

Hatfield Forest was in existence at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086. It belonged to King Harold and passed to William of Normandy at the time of the Conquest. A forest in those days was a mixture of woodland and open spaces for grazing. Fallow deer were introduced in 1100 from Sicily and their descendants still roam the woods today. Rabbits were another “foreign” introduction and a warren was set up in the woods to provide meat and fur. In keeping with may other medieval hunting grounds, including Ashdown Park, Hatfield had a lodge that was the residence of the Head Keeper. The current lodge, dating from 1570, is still standing and originally had a tower at one end from which spectators could watch the progress of the hunt.

Read more