Stolen Magic!

Image003by Mary Jo

Stolen Magic,Book 2 of my long out of print Guardian paranormal historical trilogy, will be released tomorrow (September 8th) in ebook and print.  (The audio is already available.) As with all my stories with fantasy elements, I use the name M. J. Putney to differentiate them from straight historical romances.

The Characters and Story:

Duncan Macrae, the hero of book 1, A Kiss of Fate, is dark and Scottish and literally a force of nature, a weather mage who could call the winds and change the course of battles.  His lady, Gwynne Owens, is English and a Guardian who thinks she has little magic. Until passion unlocks her powers, which are great enough make her Duncan's match, and his nemesis.

Simon, Lord Falconer, the hero of Stolen Magic, is English, blond, and very different from his close friend, Duncan Macrae. As the chief enforcer of the Guardians, he is known for his immense power combined with rigorous control and integrity.  This makes Simon respected, feared, and sometimes hated.   He believes he is doomed to be forever alone until a mission to punish the rogue Guardian Lord Drayton goes horribly wrong and he is transformed into a unicorn.

Simon escapes with the aid of Meg, another of Drayton's victims.  She's a mysterious Image003sprite with wild magic unlike anything Simon has ever seen before, and she can temporarily restore him to his human form.  They pledge to do whatever is necessary to bring down Drayton. The need for each other’s magic binds them together–and releases the more ancient magic of passion. But even the combined powers of Simon and Meg may not be enough to stave off catastrophe for all Britain. Only a desperate act of love may win back the future–or destroy all they hold dear.


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A Little Bit of Switzerland in Regency England!

Ye_Olde_Swiss_Cottage_pub_Swiss_CottageNicola here. When I was a student in London, I lived near the Finchley Road. This was one of the main roads that led North out of the centre of London and it was often very busy with traffic. At one large roundabout there was a sight that always struck me as very odd: A Swiss chalet in the middle of the road. It was a pub and it was called, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Swiss Cottage.” The roundabout and the nearby underground station were named after it, and for such a busy and modern place it looked total incongruous.

I didn’t realise then that when the original “Swiss Tavern” was built there in 1804, it was part of a Switzerland vintage
larger fashion for recreating Swiss landscapes in England and elsewhere as part of the Romantic movement. Yes, as is often the case, the poet William Wordsworth had a hand in bringing back the idea of “Swissness” as something that represented freedom and beautiful scenery. In 1790 he and a friend took a walking tour of Switzerland and he was awestruck by the landscape and also by a scale model he saw of Lake Lucerne, the mountains and the alpine cottages. He brought home the idea of creating little Switzerlands in the English countryside.

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Regency Twelfth Cake!

Twelfth-Cake-with-feathersNicola here. It’s Twelfth Night today, marking the end of the Christmas festivities (assuming that you count the twelve days from Christmas Day. Some traditions start counting on 26th December meaning you can keep partying until the 6th!)

There are a number of different ways in which Twelfth Night has been celebrated through the centuries. In the Georgian period they were keen on baking a special cake to mark the occasion. The Historic Food website has some fascinating information on this.

The earliest printed recipe for an English Twelfth Cake appears to date from 1803 and was Queen for the nightrecorded by John Mollard in his cookery book of that date. Originally the Twelfth Cake contained a pea and a bean and whoever found these in their slice were elected as King and Queen of the Twelfth Night festivities. In the early Victorian period, this tradition developed into “Twelfth Night Cards.” All the guests at the party would be invited to choose a card from a special pack illustrating the different “characters” of Twelfth Night. Along with the King and Queen these might include Sir Bob Bergamot the fop, Fanny Farcical the actress, Priscilla Passion… Well, you can imagine her profession! You then had to act in character for whichever card you had picked until midnight. Allegedly, Queen Victoria eventually banned the Twelfth Night parties for fear they were getting out of hand!

Partying may be banned at present as well but at least we can still eat cake. So if you fancy baking up a slice of Twelfth Cake, the original 1803 recipe is below:

Twelthnight-cakeTake seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

From John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).

There is a more modern recipe on the National Trust website.

Alternatively, you may prefer a different sort of Twelfth Night feast? What would your choice of special sweet or savoury treat be to celebrate the last night of Christmas?

Let There Be Light!

IMG_3920Nicola here. At this time of year when the evenings are long and dark and the days are short there is nothing that I enjoy more than seeing a light show. If there is snow (or at least a hard frost!) and stars sparkling overhead that’s an added bonus. Perhaps its’ a throwback to the distant ancestors who lit up this time of year with a number of fire festivals: Samhain, Halloween, All Souls and Guy Fawkes Night, all with bonfires and lanterns. The precursor of Christmas lights were the candles that German families would attach to the branches of trees with wax and pins as far back as the 17th century (fire hazard alert!) A hundred years later they had developed candle holders and glass balls for the candles and the tradition of the Christmas tree lights spread across Europe. The advent of electricity, of course, meant that we could all go wild with our lights if we wanted, both inside and outside!

It was a huge treat for me to go the Christmas Lights at Cotehele Manor gardens in Cornwall this year. Cotehele is a Tudor house with Cotehele Garland glorious gardens and a fascinating history. The Cotehele Christmas Garland is a tradition dating back to last century. Normally it adorns the Great Hall of the Manor House. The flowers for the garland are grown in the gardens from seeds sown in early spring. The plants include purple and blue statice and yellow helychrysum.

Garland close upThe flowers are picked in the summer, each individual stem is stripped of leaves and then they are hung up in the potting shed to dry. Construction of the garland begins in November using a sixty foot long rope which is first wrapped in evergreen foliage. Between 15 and 30 thousand flowers are then placed among the greenery and the huge garland is hung in swags across the Great Hall. It sounds an amazing creation and I wish I could have seen it but this year, of course, things are different. The house was closed and so the National Trust had had the brilliant idea to bring the decorations outside.

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The Kissing Bough

Kissing boughby Mary Jo

If you've read many Christmas Regency romances, I'm sure you've encountered the kissing bough.  Christmas trees didn't become common in Britain until the Victorian age, and were brought into fashion by the Royal Family's German connections. 

But the kissing bough has deep roots in British history and is part of the tradition of bringing evergreens into the house at the holiday season.  It's essentially a globe of greens with a bunch of mistletoe fastened to the bottom. Traditionally one white mistletoe berry was removed each time there was a kiss.  I presume that festive householders would refresh the berries as necessary!  The image at the right is from the North Pole site, with instructions on how to make your own kissing bough.  

Over time, kissing boughs became more elaborate, with ribbons and candles and fruit.  I thought it would be fun to go to YouTube and find a couple of videos of people making kissing boughs.  This first is from English Heritage and goes behind the scenes of Kenilworth Castle to see how a Tudor kissing bough is made.  (It helps if you can wander into your knot garden and cut off some rose hips. <G>)

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