Mary Jo Putney’s Silver Lady

Anne here, interviewing Mary Jo Putney about her latest book, SILVER LADY. It’s the first book in a new ‘Dangerous Gifts’ series, but it’s also a return to her Regency world with a touch of the paranormal, where some people are ‘gifted’ with extra sensory abilities, and where many others are prejudiced against them. (The Marriage Spell)

Cover of Silver Lady, By Mary Jo Putney

SILVER LADY has already received some glowing reviews. It’s the Editor’s Pick on Amazon for best romance.  Publishers Weekly called it the start of “an exciting new historical romance series set in 19th-century Cornwall” and recommended it “for readers who like some fantasy in their historical romance and appreciate stories with chosen family and strong women.“

Booklist Reviewer John Charles said it deftly blended “a superbly atmospheric Cornish setting, spot-on historical details, and a danger-riddled plot enhanced with just the right touch of the paranormal.”

Anne: Mary Jo, can you tell us a little more about this world where some people are ‘gifted’ and others hate them for it?

MJP: I’ve always loved reading fantasy because I like the idea that there might be something wonderful just outside the corner of one’s eye.  I’ve done full fledged magical fantasy books (my Guardian series and my Dark Mirror young adult series), but I wanted something subtler, more like the psychic abilities in Jayne Ann Krentz’s books.  Since humankind has a long and terrible history of despising anyone who is different, it was easy to believe that being gifted could arouse hostility. I thought that would make a solid framework for a new series. And indeed it does. <G>

Anne: This new series features a “found family” of people who had been rejected at a young age by their parents because of their ‘gifts’ — ie paranormal abilities.

MJP: I only heard the phrase ‘found family’ relatively recently, but it’s something I’ve done from my earliest books because I was always interested in the friends of my protagonist.  This interest became much more focused with my first long historical series, the Fallen Angels.  I love the idea of people who have had difficulty in their early years finding friends who become closer than blood kin, bonded by absolute trust and mutual caring.  These kinds of found families are the DNA of all my series. In this series, the “Tribe of Tremayne” was created by the gifted Lord and Lady Tremayne.  They have three biological children but they’ve rescued many gifted children who had been discarded by their families. Some children they placed with other gifted families, some they kept, like Bran.

Anne: Bran, the hero of SILVER LADY, was dumped by his noble birth father in a baby farm, where he’d been expected to die, but he and another gifted little boy escaped and found their way to London where they were taken in and adopted by Lord and Lady Tremayne.

Now an adult working for the British government, the adventure starts when Bran’s intuition draws him to investigate something disturbing happening in Cornwall. Tell us about Bran.

MJP:  Bran is reserved, even-tempered, and extraordinarily competent.  His politeness to his rude, angry birth father makes the old bully even angrier. <G>  Bran is a very gifted analyst, good at putting fragments of information together to form a larger picture.  Bran is also very intuitive and sees important matters as shimmering silver.  That leads him down to Cornwall.  He doesn’t know why, only that it’s vital that he go there. (The photo above is by Mark Markstein on Unsplash.)

Anne: The Cornish setting is wonderfully evocative. (Photo on the left is by Thomas Vogel on Unsplash)
Your heroine, the ‘Silver Lady’ of the title is unusual in that for the first part of the book she has no name except ‘Girl’ and can barely communicate. Tell us about her. Was she difficult to write?

MJP:  Not at all.  I’ve always been interested in stories of identity, and an amnesiac situation really emphasizes that.  Bran’s Silver Lady is gifted, and people who want to exploit her talents force a hypnotic amnesia on her.  I thought it was interesting to show her gradually regaining a sense of herself until she has the courage to make a break for freedom.  Once she comes under Bran’s protection, her recovery becomes much faster–and surprises everyone around her!

Anne: Apart from the London opening, the story is mostly set in Cornwall.  Bran is killing two birds with one stone; reconnecting with his estranged noble family, and as a government agent, investigating the disturbing feelings he’s getting from that part of the world – personal and political. It’s the latter that provides the adventure part that’s so often a feature of your books. What sort of research did you do for this?

MJP:  I chose an interesting period in 1803 when the Peace of Amiens is about to be broken, which will send Britain and France into war again.  Since I wanted Cornwall to be the setting, I did some general reading and discovered the Royal Naval Dockyard on the border between Cornwall and Devon. It was vitally important in the ongoing wars with France, and more reading brought me to a disaster several years earlier.  The explosion of the frigate Amphion was an inspiration for what might happen in my story. (That’s a frigate above.)  I’ve found that poking around with research invariably produces possibilities.  In fact, that just happened yesterday with the book I’m working on now.

Anne: Will you give us a short snippet of SILVER LADY please?

MJP: This is from the opening. Rhys and Gwyn Tremayne have been at the theater, but as they’re about to get into their carriage, Gwyn senses something down a dark alley.

“Something, or someone.”  Gwyn drew her cloak more closely around her as she purposefully started threading her way through the mass of waiting carriages and playgoers who were happily discussing the show they’d just seen.

Two turns took them from Covent Garden into a narrow lane.  Halfway down, Gwyn paused, then turned left into a dark alley barely lit by capricious moonlight.  It dead ended at a wall where a pile of rubble had accumulated against the dingy brick. Heedless of her expensive cloak, she knelt on the frozen ground by the rubble and said softly, “You can come out now, my lad.  You’re safe.”

There was a rustling sound but no one appeared. “How does warm food and a fire and a bath sound?” she said in her most persuasive voice.

A child’s voice snarled, “Don’t want no bath!”

“Then we’ll start with the food and the fire,” she said peaceably.  “Will you show yourself?  We won’t hurt you.”

Rhys stood silently behind her, knowing a frightened child would fear a rather large grown man more than a soft-voiced woman.  The rubble shifted and a small, filthy face became visible. A boy child perhaps five or six years old.

Gwyn brushed back a lock of fair hair, then peeled the kidskin glove from her right hand and offered it to the little boy.  He hesitantly took it.  As she clasped his freezing fingers with her warm hand, his eyes widened and he sighed with relief.

“You can tell I’m safe, can’t you?” Gwyn said.

The boy frowned up at Rhys. “You may be, but not sure about him!”

“I’m safe, too,” Rhys said in his most reassuring voice.  “I’m very good at protecting others.”

Unconvinced, the boy narrowed his eyes warily.  As Rhys stood very still, Gwyn said soothingly, “I’m Gwyn Tremayne.  What’s your name?”

The boy hesitated, as if his name was too precious to share.  After a long moment, he said, “Caden.”

“Caden.  That’s a good Cornish or Welsh name.  My husband and I come from Cornish families.”  Knowing there was more to find, her gaze moved back to the rubble pile.  “Your friend can come out, too.”

Caden gasped and jerked away from her.  For a moment she feared he’d try to bolt, but a thin, childish voice emerged from the rubble.  “It’s all right, Cade.  These are the people we came to find.”

An even smaller boy emerged from the rubble, his ragged garments almost indistinguishable from the trash around him.  His gaze on Gwyn, he said, “I’m Bran.”

“For Branok?” Again Gwyn offered her hand and Bran took it without hesitation.  His small fingers felt as if they were carved from ice.  In the darkness it was hard to see the boys clearly.  Though both were dark haired, there was little other resemblance.  Bran’s eyes were light, Caden’s were dark, but the color wasn’t visible in shadows. “Are you brothers?”

The boys exchanged a glance.  “We are now!” Caden said fiercely, challenging anyone who might deny that.

Anne: I love the way those lost little boys claimed each other so fiercely — the essence of “found family.”  (Photo of on the left is by Jonny Gios, on Unsplash.)
What’s next for MJP and the ‘Dangerous Gifts’ series?

MJP:  I’m close to finishing book 2, Golden Lord.  The hero is Caden, Bran’s foster brother who helped them escape from Cornwall to London when they were very small boys.  They’re very close.  Bran is more the strategist, Cade is in charge of cracking heads. <G>

Anne: I can’t wait.
Question for readers: Do you enjoy stories with a touch of paranormal in them? Do you like “found family” stories?
Mary Jo will be giving away a copy of SILVR LADY to someone who leaves a comment. (US only, alas.)

Regency Censorship

An_Early_Newspaper_Office_20858vPat here, just back from South America and not quite ready to post on travels. So here’s a shorty, the promised blog on newspapers in the Regency. I’ve already told you how it took nearly half a week for news of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo to reach London. What startled me was learning that the newspapers took so long to report the news because they had NO journalists anywhere—editors simply waited for official court documents before printing an edition telling the British populace that Napoleon had been defeated!

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Ask a Wench for February: The Perfect Romance Convention

Screen Shot 2021-02-12 at 12.06.40 AMJoanna here, thinking how nice it would be to get away from all this rain.

Which leads to how the Wenches from time to time go to Writers’ Conferences where they attend sessions that help make them better writers and give talks that help other writers do the same, but mostly they hang out in coffee shops and gossip with friends because that’s what folks do at conferences.

So … what would be the most interesting spot for a conference if you could pick any time and place whatsoever?

Some thoughts on this.

 

Pat:  Oh my, this poses entirely too many choices. I’ll simply go with the first one that pops to mind—

Ranelagh

Ranelagh. Maybe Mozart is playing
(Click on the image for a close up_

Ranelagh Gardens in its heyday, about 1765 when the likes of Mozart played in a rotunda painted by Canaletto.  Vauxhall would be another choice, but I like warmth, and the rotunda was heated.

Neither of them are available today in all their glory, so it would be a great joy to see how they looked as our characters wandered about, rubbing elbows with dukes and princes in the case of Ranelagh, and with maids and merchants if we choose Vauxhall.

We could have sessions with genuine lords and ladies and ask them all those eternal questions on how they wish to be addressed (do you really wish to be addressed as Your Grace, Duke? Or would your closest friend address you by the name you had growing up, Kingsley, as in Marquess of?). I would not presume to give a talk on the address question, but I would be happy to speak to The Future and Women’s Rights in Our Novels, if asked.

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To Lady’s Maid or Not to Lady’s Maid

Chocolate maid

A Lady's maid delivering hot chocolate in the morning

Joanna here.  The other day I was thinking about a discussion on Twitter that talked about the life of a lady’s maid. This related somewhat tangentially to my own life since I am trying and failing to fix my clothes washer and have thus taken refuge in philosophy.

It is better than kicking the washer and swearing, I suppose.

The Twitter thread was touched off by a video of a woman getting dressed in the 1890s.

There were many frothy bits of clothing, all of which had to be tugged up or around or pulled over and then tied or buttoned.

Folks pointed out, rightly, that it would have taken a bit of time and a lot of wriggling and gymnastics to get the woman dressed. Look at all those layers, they said. Bet she had a maid to help.

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What did Regency Mermaids Get Up To?

Ww c14 The Hours of Yolande of Flanders

C14 Book of Hours The comb and mirror are symbols of Venus

Joanna here, asking: What did Regency mermaids get up to?

You have doubtless spent a lot of time wondering about this.

They differed significantly from modern mermaids. Disney’s singing amphibians were not a gleam on the horizon. Even the source story of that movie – Hans  Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, (Danish title Den Lille Havfrue) – wasn’t written till 1837 and not translated till 1845.

You ever notice how we don’t know the name of the mermaid in Andersen’s story? She’s like the heroine of Rebecca. This business of Fairy Tale protagonists having only a nickname or profession … Is this Fraught With Significance?

So. What kinda mermaids were floating around n 1800?

–  You could pay your pence and go see an ugly, shriveled-up specimen on exhibition or

Ww fake mermaid

Does not look so much like yer traditional mermaid

spot one displayed as a curiosity in a coffee house or tavern. The tradition of fake mermaids dated to at least the Sixteenth Century.

And, frankly, the mermaids were probably just as convincing as the duckbilled platypus in the next case.

 

They had accounts of sightings from reliable sources.

 

A traditional mermaid

A more ordinarty mermaid

 

Nor yet is the figure generally attributed to the nereids at all a fiction; only in them, the portion of the body that resembles the human figure is still rough all over with scales. For one of these creatures was seen upon the same shores, and as it died, its plaintive murmurs were heard even by the inhabitants at a distance.

The legatus of Gaul, too, wrote word to the late Emperor Augustus that a considerable number of nereids had been found dead upon the sea-shore.

     Pliny the Elder, The Natural History

and

On the previous day [8 Jan 1493], when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [on Haiti], he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits. The Admiral says that he had seen some, at other times, on the coast of Guinea, where you find manequeta.
     Dominican Bartolomé de la Casas quoting Christopher Columbus’, Journal of the First Voyage

and

"All day and night cleere sunshine. The wind at east. The latitude at noone 75 degrees 7 minutes. We held westward by our account 13 leagues. In the afternoon, the sea was asswaged, and the wind being at east we set sayle, and stood south and by east, and south southeast as we could. This morning one of our companie looking over boord saw a mermaid, and calling up some of the companie to see her, one more came up and by that time shee was come close to the ships side, looking earnestly on the men. A little after a sea came and overturned her. From the navill upward her backe and breasts were like a womans, as they say that saw her, but her body as big as one of us. Her skin very white, and long haire hanging downe behinde of colour blacke. In her going downe they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse, and speckled like a macrell. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner."
    Henry Hudson, Logbook, Second Voyage,  June 15, 1608

There continued to be a robust Regency sea folklore with sailors' eyewitness accounts. And rather more sailors repeating somebody else’s account

Wiki manatee

Here's a manatee.
You be the judge.

Many spoilsports suggested these were tall tales. Others posited drunken myopic sailors.And some folks offered manatees. Eighteenth Century Rationalists would have been perfectly happy with manatees, never having seen one.

Also, the stories of mermaids were of great antiquity which leant them an air of authority. I mean, who wants to argue with Pliny?

Wwdeasura

Deasura, about whom your average Regency buck knew nothing

The very oldest mermaids aren't so much relevant to the Regency. It’s unlikely your average Regency banker or barrister or baron knew much about Babylonian and Sumerian deities like Atargatis (aka Desura) the half fish/half human chief goddess of northern Syria, mother of Semiramis.

But with the loose change of all that Classical education in their pockets 1800 folks couldn’t help but trip over Greek and Roman mermaids, nereids, and other exciting marine mythical sorts. Lots of pastiche animals.

Ww sirens odyssey

Sirens, making everybody unhappy

 

Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens probably had feathers involved. Homer doesn’t get down to taxonomic details, but the available images show sirens as birds.

By Medieval times sirens stopped being bird-ladies and became fish-ladies. When Geoffrey Chaucer translated Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, (1378-1381) he translated “sirenae” as “meremaydenes.”  

 

Wwsiren

In keeping with the general weirdness of the Medieval, there are some images with BOTH wings and tail

There’s a story that goes with that.

In Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene book II (1590s), "mermayds . . . making false melodies" tempt the heroes. These mermaids, Spenser explained, were once "fair ladies" but arrogantly challenged the "Heliconian maides" (the Greek Muses) and were turned to fish below the waist as punishment. (This sort of ties in with Pausanias’ Description of Greece from around the 2nd century A. D., where the Sirens and Muses had a singing competition. The Sirens lost and the Muses plucked out their feathers to make into crowns.)
      Writing in the Margins, Fish or Fowl: How Did Sirens Become Mermaids?

 

 

 

Medieval mermaids differed from Disney’s Ariel in that they ate human flesh, sank ships, displayed sexually transgressive behavior, and lured men to their death.

Ww burne jones

Burne-Jones of whom I speak slightingly below

Medieval mermaids had fishy reputations.
(Okay. I didn’t say that.)

In short – they were not just pretty faces.
They were badass

…spekth of meermaides in the see,
How þat so inly mirie syngith shee
that the shipman therwith fallith asleepe,
And by hir aftir deuoured is he.
From al swich song is good men hem to keepe  
     Thomas Hoccleve, Male Regle, 1406 

We see lots of depictions of mermaids in Medieval bestiary, marginalia, and the odd Book of Hours. The combination of exotic sailor-killing sealife and nudity seems to have been irresistible.
They
represented sexuality and tenptation. But respectable, y’know. It was natural history. Like painting zebras.

The split tailed mermaids — in case you've every wondered — showed up in the C7 onward. I find them a bit puzzling. Rude and earthy. Authentic, but odd. I suppose they made good sense in the cultural context.

Mermaid mosaic

Otano Cathedral 1088

Screen Shot 2020-10-27 at 1.51.37 PM

Skipping nimbly past Shakespeare, who does not seem to have depicted mermaids as malevolent to any extent, we move into the Regency period.

Mermaids were trivialized.

The mermaids for supper provided such dishes
As suited the palates of Gods and of fishes …  
     A. Taby, The Fishes’ Feast with A Mermaid’s Song. 1806

 

Plucks harp c 1800

 Regency mermaid,  no longer boldly sexual

In 1800, our sophisticated Regency character stands at the cusp, as it were, in the matter of mermaids. Sailors' tales are not taken seriously. There's a whole world of exotic animals out there for the scientifically minded to theorize about. The educated are skeptical of mermaid reality, unconcerned with them as a danger to shipping, and no longer fascinated with this particular model of dangerous femininity, having doubtless found others.

Mermaids have dwindled to minor creatures of Classical myth, subject of naughty sea shanties, and not yet established in children’s tales.
Significanyly, t
he Regency had not yet embraced the Romantic mermaids of Burne-Jones.

An unsatisfactory time for mermaids, I suppose.
But at least they're not yet wearing scallop shells on their breasts.

So. What legends do you wish were real. Mermaids? Brownies? (House brownies is my own secret desire.)

Do you have a favored bit of folklore you’d really like to be true?