Serendipity or Help from the Gods?

Pic 1 Marsden BayChristina here. As writers, we do a lot of background research for our books and personally I like to go and look at the settings for my stories if at all possible. Having decided that my hero and heroine were going to end up in the north-east of England (Northumbria and Mercia as it was called in the 9th century), I really wanted to visit those places for myself to see first-hand what it was like. I persuaded my poor long-suffering husband to come with me, and as we had two very elderly dogs they came along for the ride too. And what a ride it turned out to be!

A 775 English miles roundtrip in two days – it was what I would definitely call an epic journey. And all done in torrential rain, which is very tiring for the driver (mostly my husband). But somehow it all worked out very well and although this might sound very fanciful, I actually felt as though the Norse gods were with me, helping me to find exactly what I needed. Because the weirdest thing happened – although it was raining the entire two days – and I’m talking deluge here, not just a shower or two – each time we stopped at a site I wanted to see and photograph, the rain stopped for just long enough to give me a chance to do that. Coincidence? I started to doubt it. I mean, what are the chances?

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Of Beaches and Castles

Bamburgh castleNicola here and today I’m talking about beaches – and history. You may already have noticed that the Wenches love a good trip to the sea, whether it’s a Caribbean island or the Antarctic or the Northern shores of Scotland. There’s something about the water and a stretch of golden sand that is refreshing and inspiring, even if you’re wearing several layers of thermals to appreciate it, as I was last week!

My beach odyssey started in Bamburgh in Northumberland, on the North East coast of England. It’s a favourite spot of mine and the setting for a story I’ll be writing a little way down the line. The whole area is chock full of history from pre-Roman times through the centuries, plus it has castles by the score and at Bamburgh there is the big mama of them all.

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In the Bleak Midwinter: The Last Chance Christmas Ball

Belsay Gloomed by AnneBy Mary Jo

Eight authors collaborating on an anthology is not the simplest of projects, but we Wenches thought it would be fun to work together, and The Last Chance Christmas Ball (now on sale for a mere 99 cents!) was the result. Our Kensington editor, Alicia Condon, suggested we might do something like a holiday ball where our characters can meet and mingle. This sounded like a fine idea, so we agreed. We had no idea how much work it would be to integrate the stories into a larger framework!

Jo Beverley created a wiki for us so we could add information about the characters and setting so instead of constantly asking things like the name of the butler or the village, we could look it up. This was very convenient.

Then the negotiations began! We talked about our requirements. Susan King, for example, specializes in Scotland so we created a setting in Northumberland, which is next door to Scotland in far northeastern England. A certain kind of great house was required. A promising house was found and modified. I casually talked about how we could have a wounded soldier in the tower as an example of what we could do, and then realized I really did want to write a wounded soldier in the tower!

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Welcome to Belsay Hall!

Belsay 1Nicola here. For the last two weeks I’ve been on a trip to the North East of England, taking in plenty of castles and historic houses along the way. I visited Cragside, the home of pioneering Victorian engineer William Armstrong, and the first house in England to be lit by hydro-electric power. The most special visit I made though, was to Belsay Hall, which we Word Wenches chose as the inspiration for Holbourne Abbey, the house that is the setting for our new anthology, The Last Chance Christmas Ball. It was very exciting to visit Belsay on behalf of all the Wenches, to wander through its rooms and imagine our characters celebrating the Christmas season in the ballroom and watching the snow falling beyond the drawing room windows. I could almost hear their voices and the faint drift of music!

Christmas is a significant date in the history of Belsay Hall for on Christmas Day 1817 Sir Charles Monck, Stables
the owner, moved with his family the short distance from his “old” castle to the newly-completed mansion house. The timing of the move symbolised a new beginning for the family; the transfer of the seat of the Belsay estate from the ancient residence to a modern one built in classical style, a gem of regency architecture.

One visitor to Belsay at the end of the 19th century recalled her impressions of the Christmas season at the house:

“There was snow everywhere… Belsay came as an incredible surprise – the snowy, cold landscape without, and the generous warmth within; arrival at that magnificently unique four-square house with its leaping fires, standing so boldly forth in its surround of sparkling snow. To feel the warm welcome, to mount the stairs, candlestick in hand, and see the flickering shadows of the light on all the pillars… the blazing fire in one’s bedroom, was glory.”

It almost makes me wish we had been able to see the house in winter rather than on a glorious sunny autumn day!

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A Land of Alpha Castles!

IMG_4294Nicola here and today I'm talking about alphas but in a slightly different way. I’ve recently come back from a trip to Northumberland, in the far north of England. Northumberland is a history-lover’s paradise. It has more castles than any other county in England. It’s past has been shaped by violence and conflict: Viking raids, Scottish incursions, battles and rebellion. I was staying in the village of Bamburgh, in the shadow of the iconic Bamburgh castle, once the seat of the Anglo Saxon Kings of Northumbria.

I think of Northumberland as the land of ""alpha castles," big, strong and built to show power and IMG_4343military might. Sometimes you will come across fortified houses that have been given the title "castle" but when you look at them up against the big ones their pretty little crenellations look as though they will fall over at the first sight of a trebuchet. It was important that Northumberland's castles could withstand serious attack, at least until the 17th century when the threat from Scotland diminished.

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