The Write Stuff


TOO-DANGEROUS-TO-DESIREAnne
here, interviewing Cara/Andrea about her upcoming release, TOO DANGEROUS TO DESIRE.

Anne: Cara, this is the third and final book in your Lords Of Midnight series. What’s the best and worst thing about writing a series?


Cara:
The Best? I find it fascinating to create a series of relationships that, like real friendships, grow and evolve over the course of three stories. I am a total “pantser, so I don’t have really
Teddy-and-TDTDhave personalities, and all their strengths and weaknesses, planned ahead of time. Part of the fun is watching the secondary characters take on a life of their own. (Trust me, they often surprise me! There are days I lean back after a few hours of writing and say, Whoa, I had NO idea they were going to do that.)

The-EndThe Worst? I confess to shedding a few tears when a series come to end. All of the characters have become such dear friends, so it’s hard not to feel sad as they move away from the cozy little neighborhood of my desk to live in far-flung places all around the world. (I’m happy to report that the Norwegian foreign rights for the Lords of Midnight were just sold last month.) I’ll miss their wonderful company—we had coffee together most every day for so long! However, it’s time to let them go off and have their own future adventures, so I’m looking forward to making new friends who will share my morning jolts of caffeine (along with those afternoon nibbles of chocolate.)


CoffeeAnne:  Congratulations on the Norwegian release. And you haven’t quite left the world of the Lords of Midnight yet — tell us about TOO DANGEROUS TO DESIRE.

Cara: It’s all about past hurts, lingering regrets, and getting a second chance at love . . .

Long ago, Sophie Lawrance chose prudence over passion, rejecting a rebellious young rogue for the sake of her family—no matter the ache it left in her heart. But when a specter from her father’s past appears and threatens to destroy all she holds dear, the desperate beauty knows there is only one man whose shadowy skills can save her.

Cam's-inspiartionCameron Daggett is a man of many secrets . . . and many sins. He’s never forgotten the pain of losing Sophie. But now, with a chance to win her back, Cameron sets aside his anger and agrees to help Sophie save her family’s honor. Together they embark on a perilous game of intrigue and deception . . . You can read an excerpt here

Anne: The tag-line for the Lords Of Midnight series says: ‘rogues, revelations and redemption.’  I’m rather partial to a redemption story, I admit. In what way is Cameron in TOO DANGEROUS TO DESIRE in need of redemption?

Cara: Cameron is one of the darker, more complex heroes I’ve ever written. And I have to say, I found it a really interesting process to develop him over the course of three books. Of the three “Hellhounds,” he’s the snarly cynic.  He uses his barbed tongue to keep people at bay. Even his two closest friends know little about his background or his inner demons. As men are wont to do, they simply accept for who he is. But we women tend to like to know what makes a man tick (Am I right?) so I kept delving deeper and deeper into his head  . . . and his heart. And I discovered some very intriguing things. Suffice it to say, Cameron is not what he seems, in more ways than one.

Reading-group-TDTDAs for why he needs redemption, the fact is that anger and resentment have ruled much of his life. Cameron has locked away his better nature, choosing instead to dance on the razor’s edge of danger. He’s a man on the brink of self-destruction and only love can release all the complicated little gears and levers that will free him from the darkness and let him move back into the light. (Be advised that opening locks is not as easy as it might seem. Sometimes it takes some very deft and clever manipulations—as several scenes in the book show. But luckily, Sophie is equal to the task.

Anne: Can you give us a little taste, please?


Boat-2Moving silently as a stalking panther, Cameron darted out of his hiding place and approached the parlor.

What reason, he wondered, had brought saintly Sophie Lawrance to one of London’s most notorious dens of iniquity? Set deep in the dangerous slums of Southwark, The Wolf’s Lair was a high-stakes gaming house and brothel that catered to rakehells and rogues who played fast and loose with the rules of Society.
    And why, after all these years, should he care?
    Because I am a god-benighted fool, thought Cameron with a shiver of self-loathing.
    The door was shut tightly with the lock engaged. Drawing a thin shaft of steel from his boot, Cameron expertly eased the latch open. A touch of his gloved fingertips coaxed the paneled wood to shift just a fraction.
    Sophie was heavily veiled, the dark mesh muffling her already low whisper. Her companion was speaking in equally low tones, making it impossible to hear their words. However, he saw a small package change hands.
    The gentleman let out a low brandy-fuzzed laugh as he tucked it into his pocket.
    Sliding back into hiding, Cameron watched Sophie hurry away down the corridor, her indigo cloak skirling with the shadows, until she was swallowed in the darkness. A moment later, the gentleman emerged from the parlor, still chuckling softly. He turned for the gaming rooms, a flicker of lamplight catching the curl of his mouth and the slight swaying of his steps.
    Cameron recognized him as Lord Dudley, a dissolute viscount with an appetite for reckless pleasures.
Dudley and Sophie? An odd couple, if ever there was one. The Sophie Lawrance he knew was anything but reckless. She was sensible—too damnably sensible to ever throw caution to the wind.
    But people change, thought Cameron sardonically. He had only to look at himself—there wasn’t the least resemblance between his present persona and the callow youth of . . .
    Shaking off mordant memories, he followed Dudley into the card room.


German-masterpiece-lockAnne:  Sounds fab — I can’t wait to read it. Did you have to do any specific or unusual research for this particular story?

Cara: I knew that I wanted to have a few lock-picking scenes in the book (Cameron is a thief, among other things) so when I was on a research trip to London, I spent an afternoon in the V&A Museum in London, where they have a whole gallery of historical locks. It’s there that I learned all about puzzle locks, which are amazingly beautiful as well as functional.

Anne:  Yes, antique locks and keys tend to be elegant as well as functional, more so than today. So, what are you working on now?

Cara: Well, speaking of making new friends to share my morning coffee, it turns out that I’ve already met a delightfully unconventional trio of sisters with a passion for writing. Olivia, the eldest, pens fiery political essays, Anna, middle sister, writes racy romance novels, and Caro, who is not quite out of the schoolroom, is a budding poet. Of course, proper young Regency ladies of the ton—especially ones who have very small dowries—are not encouraged to have an interest in intellectual pursuits. Indeed, the only thing they are encouraged to pursue is an eligible bachelor. Preferably one with both a title and a fortune. So, the headstrong, opinionated Sloane sisters must keep their passions a secret. But as we all know, secret passions are wont to lead a lady into trouble . . .

Cara-Elliott-at-signingI’ll be talking more about my new series soon—right now, I’ll just say that the working title is The Hellions of Half Moon Street, and I turned the first book in three days after Hurricane Sandy hit. (Hey, I take my deadlines seriously! I was doing final edits by kerosene lamplight on my laptop, which I had charged on the emergency generator that was running my sump pump.)

Anne: Wow, that’s true dedication! I’m fond of sister series and I love the tag-line ‘The Hellions of Half Moon Street. But I’ll be good and not ask you about them. . . yet.

So here’s a question for readers: do you prefer a hero or heroine-centered series? And what’s a favorite series of yours? Cara is giving away a copy of TOO DANGEROUS TO DESIRE to someone who leaves a comment here between now and Tuesday evening.

Time’s Echo, by Pamela Hartshorne

Anne here, introducing Pamela Hartshorne, an English writer who writes for Harlequin as Jessica Hart, and whose mainstream historical novel called Time's Echo, is about to be published under her real name.
PBH A MediumPam's led an adventurous life — she's travelled widely, has worked as a journalist, a cook on an outback cattle station, and as a production assistant in the theater. She has a PhD in Medieval Studies from the University of York, and she's an excellent, award-winning and best-selling romance writer (& a RITA winner.)(Photographs © Kippa Matthews)

I've always been a huge fan of her contemporary romances and can't wait to read Time's Echo. It's had some wonderful reviews already: "a novel of superb power," and "a tantalising novel that moves effortlessly between the past and the present, detailing the lives of two women joined together by tragedy. This is female fiction at its riveting best." And just yesterday, a word of mouth recommendation of a friend of mine who had no idea I was interviewing Pam, telling me about this "amazing" book that I had to read.

Anne: Pam, after years as a historian and a writer of contemporary romances — presumably quite separate activities — you've branched into writing a mainstream historical novel. What inspired you to do this?  

Time's Echo smallPam: I turned 50 in the same year that my 50th romance was published, which coincided in its turn with a spectacular crash and burn on the relationship front, and I realised that I really needed to change. I’ve always loved the idea of a time slip (What if you could know what it was really like in the past?) and having spent years working on a PhD about Elizabethan York, it seemed sensible to put my research together with everything I’d learnt about story-telling over the previous 20 years. (The relationship has since been resuscitated, btw, so I had to give John an acknowledgement for being the inadvertent instigator of my career change!)

Anne: When we first discussed this interview, you told me Time's Echo was "a time slip, set partly in the 16th century and partly in the present, and is part historical fiction, part ghost story, part psychological thriller and part romance." It sounds fabulous — I love time slip novels, and Nicola Cornick, who's already read it, says it's wonderful. My copy was ordered from here.  Tell us about the story.

Pam: I’m thrilled that Nicola enjoyed it and will wait nervously to hear what you think, Anne! As you say, Time’s Echo isn’t strictly a historical novel, but tells two intertwined stories, one in the past and one in the present. The premise in both time periods is one that fascinates me: what if we could turn back time and relive our lives? Would we be able to identify the moment we made a mistake, the tiny choice that changed everything? How different would our life be if we had turned left instead of right, or if we’d turned back because we’d forgotten something rather than gone on?

One day in 1577 Hawise (pronounced Ha-wees-a) Aske smiles at a stranger in the market place and sets in train a story of obsession and jealousy, of love and hate and warped desire. Drowned as a witch, Hawise pays a high price for that smile.
Mulberry Hall

Grace Trewe comes to present-day York intending to spend as little time as possible sorting out her dead godmother’s affairs before moving on, the way she has always done before. Having survived the Boxing Day tsunami, Grace knows how lucky she is to be alive. She looks forward, not back.

But in York Grace discovers that the past cannot always be ignored. Her godmother, Lucy, has been dabbling in the occult, and Hawise is searching still for peace. Through Grace, she has a chance to relive her life, but will she be able to avoid making the same mistakes again? The more Grace is drawn into Hawise’s life in the Elizabethan city, the more parallels she finds with her own life. For Grace, too, has failed a child. . .

Is Grace possessed? Or is she suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Either way, she learns that she cannot move on until she has come to terms with the past.

Anne: It sounds wonderful. Tell us about Grace. Do your characters spring to life on the page, fully formed, or do they slowly emerge in the writing?

Pam: Hhhmmnn, that’s a difficult question. I think I’d say both in the case of Time’s Echo. When I set out to write the story, I was expecting to find the present day story easy enough (I’d written 50 contemporary romances, right?) but I thought I’d struggle with the need to make the past authentic without alienating the reader. As it turned out, Hawise wrote her own story. I don’t remember ever thinking: I’ll make her do X or say Y. She just jumped into the screen and took over the writing – I wish that happened more often!

But when it came to Grace, I found it much harder, to tell you the truth. I think it was partly to do with the concept of a time slip. This extraordinary, fascinating, frightening thing is happening to her, and at the same time she’s dealing with the consequences of undiagnosed PTSD. So Grace has a lot to deal with and that doesn’t leave much room for frivolity or fun. For a long time I tried to make her one of my flirty romance heroines, but that just didn’t work. Grace is stubborn and sensible and furiously self-reliant and once I let her be herself, we got on a lot better!  

Anne: I'm always fascinated by the spark of inspiration where a writer gets an idea —a face, a piece of music, a painting or a snatch of conversation and thinks "there's a story." Was there such a spark for Time's Echo?  

Fol 46v double pagePam: It was more of a slow burn than a spark. My PhD was based on local court records in Elizabethan York, and I spent so long working on them that I felt as if I got to know the individuals who were presented for various petty offences.

The entries tend to be very brief, but one incident stood out: a miller called Miles Fell was fined for not muzzling his dog, a mastiff bitch which had bitten Nicholas Ellis on the leg. I don’t know what it was about this entry that made me picture it so clearly. I felt as if I knew what Fell was like (he turns up in the records a lot) and I imagined all the other individuals I “knew” watching him with his dog and poor Ellis hopping around holding his leg.

Once you’ve got a scene in your mind, it’s hard to let go of it. I began to think of what it would be like if you came across that entry and remembered it, if you knew exactly where they were and what had been said … Would that be fascinating or would it be frightening – or both?

Anne: What kind of research did you do for this novel?

Pam: Witchcraft (old and new), the Boxing Day tsunami, PTSD, de Clérambault’s syndrome, sociopaths, exorcism, herbal remedies, regression, New Age religions – and just about everything to do with everyday life in the 16th century! I soon discovered that a PhD about mending the streets and disposing of waste wasn’t much use when it came to knowing about childbirth or marriage rituals, or what people then wore or had for breakfast . . .  all of it fascinating.
Holy Trinity Goodramgate

I loved doing that research – and there’s still so much to read. Wherever possible, I like to read primary sources for the historical background; reading what people actually did and said in their own words makes the past so much more vivid. I’m currently reading the Assize Court records for the Elizabethan period and finding them really intriguing – so many stories there! I’m less rigorous for the present day stuff, I’ve got to admit. It’s amazing how much you can find with a little judicious Googling!

Anne: You're an avid traveller. Do you write while you're travelling or do you keep the activities separate?

Pam: I wish I could write when I was travelling – I love the idea of tapping away on my laptop under a vine-laden pergola in the sunshine somewhere – but sadly I only seem to be able to work when I’m at home in my study in York. On the plus side, it means I’m never tempted to take a laptop, so I’m able to cut myself off completely when I’m away. I always mean to ponder my next plot, but the moment I leave home, my mind goes blissfully blank. I tell myself that inspiration is simmering away on the back burner but I just don’t realise it. . .

Anne: Do you have a writing routine?

Pam: I write three drafts – a shitty first draft (to quote Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird), a shitty second draft and a final draft, which usually involves a complete rewriting – and my routine depends very much on how close I am to a deadline.
I’m hopeless when writing the first two drafts. Every Monday I vow to have a week when I do nothing but write, but I always end up frittering away my mornings, and most of the afternoon too. I am so easily distracted! I really only write effectively after 9.00 at night, which means my days are spent feeling guilty about not knuckling down and then having a late night frenzy of writing.

I wait until I’m really terrified by a looming deadline before I have a real routine for rewriting the entire book. I’ll set my alarm and get up at 6.30, and make myself write 500 words before my shower. Then I have to do another 500 before coffee, 1000 before I’m allowed lunch and so on. I don’t know why I can’t make life easier for myself and write steadily all the time but I seem to need the adrenalin rush of pure panic. My next deadline is 31st October, and I need to rewrite 120,000 words before then; think of me lashed to my keyboard for the entire month!

Anne: Ouch! Best of luck with it. Can you give us a small taste of Time's Echo? 


City wallsOn her way to meet Francis Bewley for the first time in the orchards outside the city walls, Hawise encounters Sybil Dent, a cunning woman reputed to be a witch.

I begin to turn away, but Widow Dent lays a hand on my sleeve. It is gnarled and knotted and mottled with age, but there is strength to it, too, that stops me in my tracks, and Hap whimpers.    
        ‘Go back,’ says the widow.

        Her eyes have taken on an eerie blankness, just as they did that day Elizabeth and I met her. ‘Go back,’ she says tonelessly. ‘Go back while you still can.’

        I look down at her in confusion. ‘I don’t understand. Go back where?’

        ‘Back the way you came,’ she says. ‘Or take a different path.’

        I bite my lip. I am late as it is. What is the point of taking a different path?

        ‘Go back!’ The urgency in the widow’s voice makes the fine hairs at the back of my neck stand up.
        
Frightened, I step back from her and click my fingers for Hap. ‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I have to go.’
        
Picking up my skirts, I run along the path, to the ash tree and to Francis, with Hap at my heels.
I choose not to go back. I go on.

Anne: I can't wait to read it. There's another excerpt here. So, Pam, what are you working on next?

York rooftopsPam: I’m back in Elizabethan York, writing another time slip called The Memory of Midnight. Although the premise of a time slip is the same, it’s a very different story, and much darker in lots of ways. I’ve been making myself uneasy with some of the scenes! As I mentioned above, this has to be finished by the end of October, and there’s a lot of work to be done yet. . .

After that, I’ll be putting my Jessica Hart hat on to write another romance – my 60th – so I’m looking forward to a change of tone for that, and then I’ll be slipping back to the past again!  

Anne: Ooh, good, I'm so glad you're not giving up romances — I love your romances.
Thanks so much Pam, it was lovely to have you on Word Wenches.

Thank you for inviting me, Anne. I often read the Word Wenches blog – so it’s a real thrill for me to be here with all you experienced historical authors!

To celebrate, I have a copy of Time’s Echo to give away.
It’ll be no surprise to learn that I’m a huge fan of historical novels. John of Gaunt, in Anya Seton’s Katherine, was the first historical hero I fell in love with, but there have been so many gorgeous heroes since. . .

Leave a comment below telling me which hero from any historical novel you would most like to meet, and I’ll put you in a lucky dip. I’ll post a book anywhere in the world, so if you’re a winner, Time’s Echo could be winging its way to you very soon!

Meanwhile, do visit my website and blog, or drop in on my Facebook page – I’d love to see you! Or let’s meet on Twitter: I’m @PamHartshorne.

A good map is a thing of beauty

Anne here, confessing that I've always liked maps. I get frustrated when things don't include maps, when a map would make it all so much more accsssible and interesting. And since I was a kid I've loved the really old maps, where the countries look nothing like the shape of the countries we know now, and where sea monsters and mermaids cavort in the stretches of empty sea. Oldmap1872Here's one from 1872.

Here be dragons?
It's not strictly true, actually — that most of the old maps said that, I mean. As far as I know that phrase was only used on one map — a 16th century copper globe known as the The Lenox Globe and it didn't actually say "Here be Dragons," it was in Latin and said "HC SVNT DRACONES" (which means the same thing). But it's a good tale and a great image and I'd be delighted to have dragons lurking on the edge of any map of mine. There are still dragons lurking — they just look different.

Landscape is important to me, so I use maps all the time for my research.I would happily tramp the streets and country lanes where my heroes and heroines walk, but I can't. So I do the next best thing — I consult a map.

I love having the ability to see the actual arial view of the land through google maps. I remember when I was searching the Dorset coastline for a suitable place for my heroine in Stolen Princess to land. You can imagine my delight when I found not only the perfect cove, which has a smuggling history, but saw through the arial view the faint outline of a path from the beach up the cliff. Through all the writing of that book, I had a detailed map of the area pinned to my noticeboard and photos of the surrounding countryside. Some were part of my collage for the story. Princess2collagebig

Do I use all these details?
No, otherwise readers all over the place would be dropping like flies, zzzing out of my story, but it helps to build the landscape in my mind and when I'm writing I can "see" the landscape. 

In my current story, the heroine can see over the back wall of the house she's in, right into the neighboring house. It's a crucial part of the plot.
I know it's possible as I've done exactly that at a friend's house in inner London. But was it possible during the Regency in the area I want? So it's off the the Horwood Map for me.
The Horwood Map? you ask, scratching your head. It was a landmark map of its day, and a huge achievement. And for me, it's a source of fascination and delight.

The Horwood Map of London

By the late 18th century the growth and expansion of London had proceeded on such a scale that the last detailed city map, John Roque's Plan of 1740, had become hopelessly out of date. As well, much redeveloping was starting to take place, with old buildings and estates being demolished and new developments being constructed, particularly in the west and the north of the city. There was an urgent need for a good quality, detailed and accurate plan of the city to me made available to the developers, surveyors and gentlemen of property, for city planning was not controlled by government in those days. This is Roque's map, below.
RocqueMap1741

Map-making in those days was a private activity also, not a subject of government departments as it so often is now. Richard Horwood decided to accept this challenge. He was not a famous map-maker and had only published one other map, of the city of Liverpool. But he was a man of determination and ambition.

Horwood raised the money for the survey by subscription — it was an investment in what he hoped would be a money making endeavor. By the mid-1790's he'd raised £4,000 in cash, and had secured a loan from the Phoenix Fire Company for the rest.

It was all done by hand — or rather, by foot. Horwood and his surveyors tramped the whole of the city, measuring and drawing and noting down everything in amazing detail. Not everything, because not all people were well-disposed toward the project and the surveyors and map-makers weren't always granted access to private estates, military sites such as the Tower of London and sometimes even to back alleys. 

The final map was a triumph of the mapmaker's art. Horwood had aimed to show every single property, every house, alleyway and street, every court and square and garden — and with a few exceptions, he succeeded. His map is detailed in a way that takes your breath away, even today, and was a landmark achievement. Here's a small part of it. Click on the image for a larger size map with clearer detail.

Horwood10301
Marvelous, isn't it? Sadly, though his map of London made Richard Horwood's reputation, and made his name live on in history, the map didn't make him a fortune, as he'd hoped. But what a legacy.

With the continuing growth of the city it was inevitable that his map would soon fall out of date, and in 1827 Christopher and John Greenwood published a new map. It's a wonderful map, very detailed and excellent to show how the city had grown in the twenty-five years since Horwood, but to my mind it lacks Horwood's crisp detail and visual appeal. Here's part of the Greenwood map showing much the same area as the Horwood one.  North15a

To pore over these maps is to pore over Georgian London. One can almost see the city come to life. In these maps, I found a number of good possibilities for my current story. I can see the places that are in easy walking distance of her house, a market where she might shop, a park, a poor house she might pass and think, "there but for the grace of God…"

London was a fascinating mix of rich and poor in those days. Did you see the workhouse in Mount Street, in the heart of Mayfair on the Horwood Map? it wasn't all rich people. And you can see it, right there on the map.

My heroine lives in an area that contains grand houses, but which was rapidly falling out of fashion, so there's an interesting mix of people, as you get when an area is changing demographically. 

HungfdMkt

I do a search for images of some of the places marked on the map and I find several that have survived the centuries, and images of others.

Here's a drawing of the Hungerford market, long since demolished for late Regency era housing.

And as I look at the map I'm reminded that the Thames Embankment hadn't been built yet and maybe I can use the proximity of the river… Ah yes, I do love a good map.

What about you? Do you like maps? Only use them when you have to? Or do you prefer to use an electronic Global Positioning thingy-whatsits that tell you to turn right or left? Or do you (or the driver in your life) prefer to operate On Instinct. 

A House In The Country . . .

AP-avatarCara/Andrea here,

SP-1One of the many reasons I’m enjoying Downton Abbey and all the enthusiasm for British History it has engendered here in the States is the interest it’s stirred in the great country houses. Now, many of us are familiar with the famous estates, like Chatsworth and Blenheim. But there are so many lesser-known places with unique and fascinating histories, as Nicola often points out in her wonderful posts.

SP-mapFor those of us who don’t live in the UK, and only occasionally get a chance to travel to the Sceptered Isle, these stately houses are incredibly alluring. The grand gardens, the ornate rooms, the opulent furnishings, the memorabilia decorating the niches and walls—it all resonates with wonderful stories and gives us a glimpse into the richly textured past. Last summer I had a chance to visit one of these  marvelous estates, so in homage to the recent start of Season Two of Downton Abbey here in America,  I thought I’d share  a little about Stoke Park, which is located near London, just a few miles from Heathrow Airport.

Elizabeth-1The lands of Stoke Park and the village of Stoke Poges, where it is located, are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and through the ensuing centuries the estate passed to various nobles of the realm. Queen Elizabeth graced two of her favorites with use of enclave, first allowing Sir Christopher Hatton  to reside there, and then giving the honors to Sir Edward Coke. Coke became one of the most prominent lawyers in England, and was involved in sending the Earl of Essex to the gallows, as well as prosecuting members of the Gunpowder Plot. Two years before the Queen’s death, he entertained her at Stoke Park.

King-CharlesRoyalty made another visit, albeit a less pleasant one, to the estate when King Charles I was imprisoned for a short time there before his execution. And in 1688, the newly crowned King William III was traveling in the area and wished to see the manor house. However, he was refused entrance by the owner, who said “He has got possession of another man’s house and shall not enter mine.”

Stoke Park eventually passed to the Cobham family, who also owned Stowe, a well-known estate in Buckinghamshire. In 1749, the dowager Viscountess came from Stowe to live at Stoke park—and brough with her another fascinating figure in English history—the legendary landscape designer, Capability Brown.

Cap-BrownLancelot Brown—who earned the moniker “Capability” for often telling clients that their estates had great “capability” for landscape improvement—was born in Kirkharle, Northumberland in 1716. He started his career as a gardener’s boy at Kirkharle Hall, and then moved on to Stowe, where he studied under the famous landscape designer, William Kent.

Brown made a name for himself by breaking with tradition and creating a new “natural” approach to designing gardens and grounds, as opposed to the formal layouts of the past. He called them “grammatical” landscapes—in explaining himself to Hannah More in an encounter at Hampton Court, he said, “I make a comma, and there . . . where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis . . .” Now as a writer, I of course love this name for his style. And oh, can Brown punctuate!

Stoke-Park-2His style is marked by long stretches of rolling grasslands, with bushes, trees  and lakes—manmade if necessary— artfully placed to create visual texture and interest. Many of the most famous estates in Britain feature his garden designs, including Croome Court, Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, and small traces at Kew Gardens. Stoke Park’s grounds—which today include a wonderful 18-hole golf course by the distinguished Harry Colt—showcase Brown’s genius for subtlely shaping the earth and creating pleasing vistas from every angle of the estate.

Stoke-Park-1I was lucky enough to play golf through some of the grounds that he designed at Stoke Park, Now, Mark Twain called golf “a good walk spoiled” but nothing could diminish the pleasure of winding my way through the vistas of rolling grasslands, strategically placed clumps of bushes, and graceful stone bridges crossing scenic waters. It’s not often that I can combine my love of history with my love of sport, so this was truly a special experience.

Thomas-GreyOther notables who owned Stoke Park include Edward Gray, one of England’s premier poets. His most famous poem, “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard” was written about St. Giles’s church in Stoke Poges. The Penn family, familiar to all us Yanks, was also a steward of the lands. In the early 1800’s John Penn, grandson of William, brought in the acclaimed architect James Wyatt to help design a manor house.

Sp-tennisNow this brings us back to the Downton Abbey era, which also figures prominently in the history of Stoke Park. In 1908, sport-mad Nick Lane Jackson had the grand idea to “establish a country club somewhat along the lines of those which had proved so phenomenally successful in the United States.” He and a group of investors arranged to lease part of Stoke Park with an option to buy. The Stoke Park Club came into being, and today it still offers its members and hotel guests world-class golf and grass Goldfingercourt tennis. (The famous golf match in the James Bond movie Goldfinger was filmed at the club.) The public can book a stay, Stoke-interiorwhich offers the opportunity  to enjoy tea and meals in the fabulous period rooms, or enjoy a quiet read in the library or various sitting rooms. It’s well worth a visit for it’s truly a special place, for everywhere you look, both inside and out, you get a breathtaking look at history.

What about you? Are you enjoying Downton Abbey? Would you like to have a stay at a grand English country house. Which one would you choose?

History of Woo-woo

Patbookmark Mary Jo tells me I have Uranus in my chart, thus making me the wench who wants to try everything at least once. I assume that’s the reason I’m the wench who doesn’t just write historical fiction but dabbles also in contemporary and paranormal and anything else that catches my fancy. Which means my research wanders far and wide and not always down historical pathways.

But sometimes my contemporary research takes a turn to the past, as with my current idea—I can’t even call it a work in progress at this point since I’m still in research mode. And what I’m researching is feng shui, the ancient Chinese—not art or science but a school of belief—that employs methods of living auspiciously with the earth’s energies. That’s a pretty modern concept for several thousand years BC!

ANCIENT HISTORY
Today, we think of feng shui as a method of decorating to promote “good vibrations,” but the practice is ancient and much more far-reaching. By 888 AD, there were written texts and exams from the court of  Emperor Hi Tsang laChinese templeying out a complex method of capturing the vital energy, or chi, of an architectural site and channeling it through  design and landscape to promote health, power, and whatever good fortune was required of the building. Considering most of Europe didn’t know the meaning of  sewers at the time, architecture to promote health was a pretty woo-woo concept.

 
PRINCIPLES
The fundamental elements of feng shui come from many sources—astrology, astronomy, religion, superstition, architecture, primitive environmental science, as well as cultural and social issues, among other things. The basic principle is to place and situate a building so it is in harmony with its surroundings (shades of Frank Lloyd Wright!), and to create a structure that balances the yin and yang of chi energy. The simplest description is to envision a house in which water flows in the front door and gently floods the entire house with positive energy. If you have a back door that is completely open to Franklloydwright the front door, then the water will flow in one and out the other without embracing the house. (My house was built counter to every feng shui principle I know and I feel it. Have you ever hated a house you lived in? Bad chi energy might be why. Or the fact that the windows are in all the wrong places, the landscaping is an eyesore, and the garage is wonky, if you want to be scientific about it.)

CURRENT PRACTICES
Feng shui was first introduced to the United States during the gold rush in California when the Chinese workers brought their beliefs with them. Of course, back then, Americans ignored the principles, but today, feng shui is seen as part of the California-gold-rush teachings of Confucius, part Taoism and I-ching, and very Californian New Age woo-woo as well as a respected principle of interior design. Laying out furniture for energy flow also improves the flow of the household, giving an open, more inviting feel instead of the claustrophobic conditions of many of our boxy rooms.

Without going into the “why” and "how" of feng shui decorating (a fun site for tips: http://www.fengshuitips.co.uk/home.htm) , some of the minor suggestions are not to leave shoes around the front door. The feng shui reason is that the chi energy will carry the smell and sickness through the house. The practical logic is that visitors can trip over them and sue you, and they’re ugly and offensive to look at. Feng shui Shoes says no TV in the bedroom. So does Psychology Today. Feng shui doesn’t allow children to sleep on the floor because they need chi energy to flow around them. I’m thinking kids sleeping on the floor are going to get into a lot more trouble crawling around picking up bugs and toys than kids safely tucked beneath covers. And I really love the warning against mirrors in the bedroom—who wants to look at themselves when they first get up? That would be enough to ruin my energy for the day.

Anyone else fascinated with the “whys” behind the woo-woo sciences? Have you ever applied feng shui to your house? I swear, my husband got a great new job after we re-arranged the “Career” section of our last house!  Oh, and a fun book to introduce you to feng shui is Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life Move by Karen Rauch Carter, just in case you’d like to grasp fundamentals from a modern point of view. And there I go again, straying away from history.