Cb Here are Charlie and Billy with my recent books, but I'm going to be writing about somethng connected to my MIP. (A wonderfully all-encompassing term. Manuscript, masterpiece, monster-in-progress.) It illustrates the little problems that can trip us up on the way, but I'm also hoping that by some wild chance, someone reading this can help.

I enjoy gardening, and what's more, I'll soon have a garden to play with. We take possession of our ne house tomorrow. Yay! We won't move in until some work's been done, but the garden will need care, and it's only a 15 min. walk from our rental.

That's not relevant to the MIP except that when I'm writing, plants automatically fill in my vision of countryside and gardens, but they sometimes trip me up. Willow

For example, in An Unlikely Countess, Cate's brother collected exotic trees, a popular hobby in the 18th century. Among a few others, I tossed in a weeping willow, liking its connection to mourning. I think that's a weeping willow in the picture. It's gorgeous, anyway, and that's Buckingham Palace behind. (You can click on any picture to enlarge it.)

I thought I'd check how new the willow was at the time…. Whoops! It had only just begun to be imported, and specimens were regularly failing in the south of England, never mind the north!

I made lemonade out of lemons, however, and made it a dying weeping willow. How very metaphorical or something.

In the MIP, A Scandalous Countess, I wanted a plant that gives out a perfume in the evening, and the obvious choice was nicotiana, or flowering tobacco. If you've never grown it, give it a try, and if you have the space, go for the tall, leggy sort.  It's not pretty, but my goodness, the perfume in the evening is gorgeous.

Nicotiana That's what I had in mind, and from there I got a nice little word play between Georgia and Tom about tobacco, pleasures denied ladies, and other matters. But I asked myself, was flowering tobacco known at the time? And I can't find out. I found a gardener's dictionary from 1754 in Googlebooks that describes a number of nicotianas, some of them sounding like the one I mean, but no mention of perfume.

I was intrigued, even bemused, by this bit. "The two smaller Sorts of Tobacco are preserved in Botanic Gardens for Variety ; but are seldom propagated for Use. The first Sort is found growing upon Dunghills in divers Parts of England. These are both very hardy, and may be propagated by sowing their Seeds in March, upon a Bed of light Earth, where they will come up, and may be transplanted into any Part of the Garden.

The first of these Sorts is the most common in England, and is generally raised by the Gardeners near London, who supply the Markets with Pots of Plants to adorn Balconies and Shop windows in the City. This Sort, when raised early in the Spring, and planted in a rich Soil, will grow to the Height of ten or twelve Feet, provided the Plants are duly watered in dry Weather."

Ten or twelve feet! On balconies and in shop windows? I'm having trouble forming the picture, but I'd like one of those plants as a show-off specimen!

S1 cute Chiffchaff in orange tree, from Nerja flat Talking of showing off, here's another lovely bird photograph by my husband.

There are many articles about tobacco, but I've found nothing about the introduction of the ornamental sort, in my books or on line. My gut feel is that the leggy, perfumed kind did arrive early, but it'd be great to know. If anyone can come up with something definite, I'll acknowledge it in the book. Out next February.

Adding this, supplied by a reader on my yahoo chat list. "A native of Brazil, Flowering Tobacco was introduced into garden cultivation in England in 1829."

There's no source, so as it's not what I want to hear, I'm still looking. After all, a plant collector could have had some earlier, couldn't they?

If you haven't bought your copy of An Unlikely Countess yet, hurry, hurry, hurry! I'm delighted by the reviews. Readers seem to really be enjoying Cate and Prudence, and many have also picked up on the way it touches on the roles of women at all levels of society in the 18th century. I didn't plan that, but I thiAncountsmrnk it is interesting.

If you're having any trouble finding it, in print or e-form, I've put together a page of suggestions. What a complicated world we live in! 

All best wishes from sunny Devon,





From here to Basingstoke…

F4667w Charlie posing on a Hovis loaf, Shaftesbury Today's Charlie picture includes a Hovis loaf. We encountered the loaf in Shaftesbury, where it had been part of a fundraiser. It's made of metal. The picture's from my recent travels, and travel is the topic of this blog.

Why Basingstoke, you ask.

Because when I think of travel, the Basingstoke roundabuot comes to mind.

Basingstoke is a town in Hampshire that always has been on the road from London to the south west with other roads going to places like Southampton the the south coast and and Bristol to the north west. Thus, back in the sixties if hitch hiking  south west out of London, to Devon or Cornwall, for example, getting a lif to the Basingstoke roundabout was a good and quite likely thing.

Why travel, you ask? 

Because it's so important in a book.Franticladyletters

I forgot this in starting my new book. The first chapter went smoothly. The next went okay, but I had that niggling feeling that Something Was Not Right. In that situation I can't go ahead, because likely when I realize what it is that isn't right, the truth will change the story in some significant way.

I don't like to talk about MIPs  (manuscript/masterpiece/mess in progress) in detail, in part because they are likely to change, but also because many readers, including me, don't like spoilers, but this much is innocuous, I think. My hero is in London, hears of a death in the family and goes north to Yorkshire. I wrote the scene of him arriving in time for the funeral, having allowed him a speedy journey of three days.


After a day of fiddling around worrying about the Something That Was Not Right, I saw it. Probably you already have. If it took him, flat out, three days to get north it took the message at least as long to reach London. Once there, the messenger would need to find him, and his lifestyle is not exactly regular. What's more, his family won't be sure he will be found quickly, and they know it will be close to a week before he can arrive, so the funeral goes ahead without him.

That doesn't significantly alter the plot, but it alters the scenes around his arrival.

Another quirk of traveling time is what goes on during it. Past or present, if two people set out on a journey of many hours or even many days, things are likely to happen. If at odds, they may travel in silence, but that will be stressful. Travel tends to throw up moments of stress. How do they react? So if I send my hero and heroine off on a journey I can't ignore it and pick up when they arrive. Sometimes a long journey is interesting, as in A Lady's Secret, which is a "road book", taking Robin and Petra from Abbeville in Northern France to Dover and hence to England. Sometimes it would just be in the way.

A few years ago I wrote a free Christmas story for my readers that involved an elopement to Scotland. My first attempt started in the south and I realized a lengthy journey wouldn't serve the plot, so I moved them up close to the border. If you haven't read that story, it is here.

Cor In another story my medieval characters manage to travel surprising distances in the night. But they are helped by Grail magic. That's in Chalice of Roses, coming in January, and Mary Jo has a story in the collection, along with Barbara Samuel and Karen Harbaugh. Yes, we've collaborated before, in Faery Magic and Dragon Lovers.

I've just seen the positive review from Publishers Weekly. Yay! "Four engaging novellas bring romance to the legend of the Holy Grail etc"

How long did travel take in the past?

That varied a lot, of course, and I like to find snippets of primary source data. Using their own horses all the way, Jane Austen traveled 50 miles in one day. In a mid 18th century play, a character talks of traveling out of London and spending the night at Basingstoke. About 50 miles. On the other hand, travelers in the mid 18th century sometimes found the roads so bad that they only achieved five miles in a day. I have some more information about travel times here.

The consequence of distance is one of the ways in which the past was very different.

I'm always surprised by the way people often traveled by night, and these were regular schedules, so it wasn't always by the full moon. I'd have thought coach lamps could only do so much. Perhaps they had great faith in the horses.

Do you have any wisdom to share about travel in the past?

What would it be like if 50 miles was a day's journey, especially before the telephone, never mind the internet? What would communities be like? Or countries?

Do you think we modern readers are as comfortable as our grandparents with the fictional world of slow travel and communication? Do you enjoy a road book, or prefer a novel set in a small area so people can nip from place to place?