Duchess the podcastNicola here. I was very interested in Wench Andrea’s blog a week or so ago about Dukes, and the reality of dukes and dukedoms as opposed to what we see on film and read about in books. This prompted me to think about duchesses, particularly as a new podcast called “Duchess” started recently. It’s a show that explores the inspiring women who are running the stately home of Britain. In it, Emma Manners, the Duchess of Rutland, travels the country and talks to a variety of women about their lives caring for historic houses. It’s quite an eye-opening listen (if that isn’t an odd metaphor!) Despite the very modern approach of some of the chatelaines, there were times when I felt I could have been listening to someone talking in the 19th century, particularly when the made reference to “taking care of the staff.” It’s all part and parcel of running a modern estate.

One of the messages that came over clearly from all the participants of the show was that life changes forever when you marry and take on the care of one of Britain’s most historic buildings. Of course you get to live in the most amazing setting and enjoy all the treasures of a grand pile, but you are sharing your home with visitors and need some privacy some of the time.

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Treasured Timeslips

Fire imageNicola here. As the UK goes into a second lockdown, I’ve been inspired by Christina’s recent post about the Keeper Shelf to turn back to my bookshelves and find solace in old favourites. It was only as I was sorting out all my timeslip books that I realised what a collection I had gathered over the years and in a spirit of nostalgia I thought I would share my favourites and ask for your recommendations. At this time of year, with the spooky goings-on of Halloween, the darker nights and chilly days, it feels a perfect time to read tales of the supernatural. Perhaps it’s the old idea of the veil between the two worlds of the living and the dead being at its thinnest around All Soul’s Day (which is today). Certainly it feels like a good time to slip between time periods, to travel back – or forwards – to a different or alternative world.

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Meet Wench Guest – Helen Hollick!

2 Helen MediumNicola here. Today it's my huge pleasure to welcome to the blog historical novelist Helen Hollick. Helen has a rich and varied writing (and life!) experience, summed up in her own words as: “I wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, and the 1066 era book Harold The King (UK title)/I Am the Chosen King (US title), I became a USA Today bestseller with Forever Queen.” Helen also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based fantasy adventures, so if you enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean films, they should be right up your street (or quayside)!

Today, Helen is going to talk about a fascinating subject, the question of what makes writers write. Maybe we all have different answers to this and it will be interesting to see in the comments what everyone thinks. She also speaks up very fervently and persuasively for the hero that was Harold Godwinson and transports us to Saxon England.

Over to Helen, who asks: Why Do We Do It?

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What We’re Reading: February Edition!

Susan here, with "What We're Reading" for February: a variety of romances, traditional and non-traditional; mysteries, contemporary and historical; classics; post-apocalyptic; paranormal; and a dash of nonfiction. Scroll on down, friends — your wish lists and TBR stacks are about to grow exponentially!

Mary Jo here:

HeadlinersNew Zealand contemporary romance writer Lucy Parker is a great hit with the Word Wenches.  I believe it was Anne Gracie who introduced us to her with Parker's first London Celebrities book, Act Like It.  The wit, banter, and intelligence of this romance between two theater actors in London's West End made the story an instant favorite of mine. 

The stories work fine as standalones, but they all take place in the same general West End milieu so characters wander through each others' stories.  The heroine of book #4, The Austen Playbook, was actor Freddy Carlton.  Her sister, Sabrina Carlton, is the heroine of recently released book #5, Headliners, London Celebrities #5, a sparkling enemies-to-lovers story.  Sabrina appeared in The Jane Austen Playbook, and she's the very successful and popular anchor of a TV evening show.  Nick Davenport is host of a show on a rival network, and he brashly broadcast a Carlton family scandal, earning Sabina's red headed rage. 

Then one of their networks buys the other, there isn't room for two evening shows, and Sabrina and Nick are made co-hosts of the live morning show which has terrible ratings.  If they fail, they'll both be in the market for new jobs or even new careers.

Sparks and much humor ensue!  Highly recommended if you like wit and banter entwined with your romance.  The broadcasting world is convincing, too. 

The Lady's Guide to Celestial MechanicsMy other suggestion is something very different. There is a sizable subgenre of male/male romances, usually abbreviated as m/m and written by women. The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite is the first female/female romance I've ever read. A Regency historical, it features Lucy Muchelney, a brilliant young mathematician and astronomer who had worked closely with her father.  After his death, she realizes how trapped she is by a male society that has no use for female scientists and largely refuses to admit they exist. 

Lucy's clueless brother is threatening to sell her telescope when Lucy goes to the widowed Lady Moth, a countess who had supported her husband's scientific endeavors.  Lucy wants to translate an important French astronomical work into English, and she persuades Catherine St. Day, the countess, to become her patron.  Though Lucy has always been aware of her sexual orientation, Catherine has never considered such a thing.  But as they live in the same house and work together, they are drawn together in a deeply romantic way. 

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics is not only an unusual and powerful romance, but also exploration of the obstacles and politics facing women of science.  And it has a very satisfying ending! Recommended if you'd like to try something different.


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An Interview with Tracy Chevalier

Tracy 3Last week I went up to London to interview international bestselling author Tracy Chevalier as part of the Romantic Novelists’ Association 60th anniversary celebrations. A number of people who weren’t able to get to the talk were interested in hearing about it, so I thought I would report back on it here as Tracy had so many fascinating things to say about books, reading, writing and art.

Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington DC, the daughter of  is best known for the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, which was made into a film in 2003. It’s based on the famous artwork of the same name by Dutch artist Vermeer, which hangs in the Mauritshuis in the Hague in Holland. As so much of Tracy’s writing life has been defined by art, we decided to base the interview around eight pieces of art or crafts that she chose to represent various aspects of her life, rather as Desert Island Discs does with music, and it proved to be a very interesting way to structure an interview.

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