Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving day spent with family and friends. May your feast be delicious!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's All Hallows' Eve

Halloween is here and I'm ready to go. I have three of those big, warehouse-sized bags of candy to distribute to trick-or-treaters. Naturally, I've removed all of the Almond Joys; I need them to keep up my strength while I hand out the rest of the candy to the kids who knock on my door.

Like most holidays, Halloween can be inspiring to a writer. A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween-themed short story about a Regency kitten with some supernatural powers . . . at least, that's what the heroine believed. It was a fun story to write, with a doubting lord, an over-imaginative heroine, and things that go bump in the night (literally!)

Originally included in a Zebra Regency anthology, the story is now available on Amazon, Nook, and other e-book outlets. Click on the book cover to read more or scroll down to read a preview.


I hope today's celebration fires your imagination to write, dream of romance, create a great costume, or do what you love to do best!

Here's the promised preview:

A Bewitching Minx

Sebastian Camerford, Lord Byefield looked into her eyes and knew he could not resist her. He had never been able to refuse her anything; not when she looked at him just so, with the light of anticipation in her eyes; not when she looked at him with that soft expression of pleading that had the power to melt his resolve as nothing else on earth could.

He should have scolded her. He should have explained to her in no uncertain terms that no female of his acquaintance was ever allowed to disrupt the solitude of his library. He should have told her how audacious and unladylike she was for daring to sit on his desktop, bringing her head level with his, looking him straight in the eye, as if she thought by doing so she could bend him to her will.

He should have done all those things, but he didn't. Instead, his stern, gray eyes met her blue eyes and he forced his brows together in a slight frown. "A kitten?" he repeated, discouragingly.

His gruff demeanor didn't fool her for a moment. She smiled slightly and returned his gaze with wide, unblinking eyes. "Yes, Uncle."

"And what, may I ask, makes you think I wish to spend my afternoon looking for a stray kitten?"

"Because it is the dearest little thing," she responded, with all the reasoning of a five-year-old. "I found it in your garden earlier and Mama said I might keep it, but when I tried to dress it properly for tea, it scampered away and I cannot find it anywhere!"

Since Sebastian was well acquainted with his niece's penchant for dressing in human attire any animal unfortunate enough to come within her orbit, it came as no surprise to him that one of the poor creatures had tried to escape. "The kitten sounds a very ill-mannered guest. Perhaps you should consider having your tea without it, Mary."

"No, Uncle, I cannot." There was the merest trace of a pout about her lips. "Truly, it is the prettiest little kitten I have ever seen, with white hair and blue eyes. I've never seen a kitten with blue eyes before, so I know it must be very special. Please help me find it. Please?"

Her voice held that pleading tone again; the same tone that, in one fell swoop, held the power to make him abandon all his plans for the afternoon and believe with all his heart that nothing was as important at that very moment as finding a kitten possessed of white hair and blue eyes.

Click here to read more with Amazon's "Look Inside" feature . . .

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gentlemen, Place Your Bets!

Although the Prince of Wales claimed that gaming had never been one of his favorite vices, he rarely declined to indulge in the pastime when it was put before him. In his young days, he and his circle of noble intimates visited the most popular and most exclusive gaming establishments of the land: the gaming tables set up in the homes of some of London’s titled ladies.

In the 1790s, a handful of noble women with an eye to repairing their shattered fortunes, set up their own faro banks. Mrs. Strutt, Mrs. Hobart, and Lady Elizabeth Luttrell (the sister of the notorious Duchess of Cumberland) all set up gambling tables. 
Lady Elizabeth Luttrell

The most celebrated proprietress, however, and the one who most often enjoyed the Prince’s patronage, was Lady Sarah Archer. Lady Archer’s gaming establishment (which she euphemistically called a “garden party”) hosted the most glittering members of the nobility, and she knew how to attract gentlemen of fortune. She was a keen businesswoman who shrewdly turned criticism to her advantage despite the fact that moralists of the time charged that the ladies who frequented her tables served a more iniquitous purpose (which, no doubt, increased her business considerably!). In The Private Life of a King, John Banvard charged that Lady Archer’s Cyprians were “training up to that character under the auspices of the patroness of the night.”

“In all the arts and mysteries of love,” Mr. Banvard declared, “she was acknowledged to be the paragon of the day.”

Lady Archer driving to the perfume warehouse in Pall Mall

One of the most prominent men who fell under the spell of Lady Archer’s charms was the Duke of York, who it was said introduced the Prince of Wales to Lady Archer’s faro table.

It’s difficult to estimate the frequency of the Prince’s visits to Lady Archer’s establishment; but her acquaintance with the Prince blossomed to the point where she felt comfortably secure enough to invoke his name whenever she thought it might do her some good.  

When authorities began fining and bringing charges against illegal gaming establishments, Lady Archer and Lady Buckinghamshire (another noble woman who gave “garden-parties”) were two proprietresses of the trade too conspicuous for the law to ignore. Lady Archer, determined to keep her establishment open, applied to the magistrates for a license under the name of Mr. Martindale (one of her more frequent customers) and not-so-subtly hinted that the license had better be forthcoming because her gaming rooms were patronized by the Prince of Wales.

King George IV when Prince of Wales
The magistrates were not fooled by the name on the license application and immediately whisked the case up to Lord Kenyon (at the time, Lord Chief Justice of England) to rule on the matter. Lord Kenyon had already made known his disapproval of lady gamesters. “If any ladies of rank were convicted of [gaming without a license] before him, they should stand in the pillory!” he declared. In this case, however, with the name of the Prince of Wales looming over his decision, he did not stand quite so firm. Instead, he referred the matter back to the magistrates, trusting that “they would do their duty fearlessly and refuse the license.”

The Gaming Table by Thomas Rowlandson
But the magistrates, it seems, weren’t any more willing than Lord Kenyon to take a stand against the Prince, and before they could rule one way or another in respect to issuing a gaming license to “Mr. Martindale,” Lord Kenyon received a rather spirited letter from the Prince himself.

The Prince wrote: “As I am thoroughly persuaded that in the administration of justice the very last thing that could enter your lordship’s thoughts would be any remark that would fall from your lips to unwarrantably prejudice the public mind against an individual of any description whatever, I am confident that your lordship could never have used the expression which in the notion of every one so decidedly alludes to me . . . It is true that, from applications from many respected quarters, I have been induced to assent to my name being placed among others as a member of a new Club, to be instituted under the management of Mr. Martindale, merely for the purpose of social intercourse, of which I never can object to be a promoter, and especially as it was represented to me, that the object of this institution was to enable his trustees to render justice to various honorable and fair claimants. But if these were really your lordship’s words (which I cannot for a moment suppose) give me leave to tell you that you have totally mistaken my character and turn, for of all men universally known to have the least predilection to play, I am perhaps the very man in the world who stands the strongest and most proverbially so upon that point. I shall not trouble your lordship further upon this strange circumstance . . .”

Lord Kenyon’s response to the Prince was swift and apologetic: “I am confident that I meant nothing offensive to you . . . May I presume to hope that your Royal Highness will pardon this trouble.”

Of course, the Prince did pardon him; and Lady Archer did, indeed, receive her license. Her “garden-parties” continued but private homes were not the only place a gentlemen of title and wealth could gamble. Gentlemen’s clubs offered a comfortable atmosphere where men could gather and talk a bit of politics, do a lot of drinking and engage in high-stakes gambling.

The Faro Table by James Gilray
White’s was the quintessential London club. It was difficult for a gentleman to gain entry and it was famous for its notorious betting book where outrageous bets were recorded. 

·         Horace Walpole wrote in 1744 about a recorded wager of £1,500 that a human being could live under water for twelve hours.

·         Lord Alvanley wagered £3,000 (estimated at over $100,000 in today’s economy) that one raindrop would beat another raindrop to the bottom of the club’s famous bow window.

·         Lord Alvanley (again!) wagered Mr. Talbot one hundred guineas to ten guineas that “a certain person understood between them does not marry a certain lady understood between them in eighteen months from this day, January 5, 1811.” The betting book indicates Lord Alvanley won the wager.

Gambling Hell by Cruikshank
High stakes wagering went on at the tables, too. In Days of the Dandies Captain Gronow tells the story of General Scott, father-in-law of George Canning and the Duke of Portland, who won £200,000 in one night at whist. George Harley Drummond, of the famous banking-house, Charing Cross, lost £20,000 at whist to Beau Brummell. As a result, Mr. Drummond was forced to retire from the banking-house of which he was a partner.

Hard Hit by Sir William Quiller Orchardson
At Brooks’s club the gambling stakes were stratospheric. Charles James Fox, the great Whig politician was bankrupted multiple times at Brooks’s tables. Lord Robert Spencer, brother of the Duke of Marlborough, lost his entire fortune, down to the last shilling, then won it back at faro. Lord Chalmondeley kept a faro bank at Brooks’s that was said to have ruined half the town. A Mr. Paul, who returned home from India with a fortune, lost £90,000 to the faro bank in one night. He immediately returned to India to make another fortune.

Of course, no women were ever allowed inside the hallowed portals of a Regency era gentleman’s club, so all accounts I’ve read are from the man’s perspective. I used my imagination to fill in some blanks when I wrote the gambling scenes in my book A Scandalous Season. The hero is the kind of high-stakes gambler who probably would have graced Lady Archer's faro table. Under the influence of a bruised ego and a bottle of wine, he makes a foolish wager for a ridiculous amount, much like Lord Alvanley’s wager with Mr. Talbot. Luckily, my hero is wealthy enough to cover his bet and charming enough to win the heroine’s heart. Click here to read more about A Scandalous Season.

Additional sources:
  • George the Fourth; including His Letters and Opinions, with a View of the Men, Manners, and Politics of His Reign by Percy Fitzgerald.
  • Huish’s Memoirs, George IV, Vol. 1 by Robert Huish.
  • Social Caricature in the Eighteenth Century by George Paston.
  • Western Argus, October 2, 1906, p. 44.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Glossy Olde England

My mail carrier is a wonderful man named Tony who has never once complained about the vast poundage of glossy magazines he has to deliver to my house every month. Most of the magazines I subscribe to are related to England and in order to keep my supply coming, I bribe Tony with Starbucks gift cards, thank you notes, and promises to keep my dogs locked up at scheduled times during the day when there's a chance his mail truck is within a 15 mile radius of my house.

A friend once asked me which magazine about England was my favorite. I struggled to answer her question in the same way a mother struggles when someone asks which child is her favorite. After some thought and several minutes of indecision and flip-flopping, I finally narrowed my favorites down to five.
Why are they my favorites? They all have stunning photography, entertaining articles, wonderful style, and insights into English culture that are hard to come by in America. Here's how they break down:

 The English Home
This magazine is filled with page after page of wonderful interior and exterior shots of homes set in ideal English locations. With every photograph I think to myself, "Oh, yes, I could live here. Yes, I definitely could live here." I love the look of today's English country house and this magazine indulges my fantasy of living in a comfortable but perfectly decorated home that happens to give a nod to a bygone time. Here are just a few of the topics covered in the latest edition:

· A fourteenth-century manor house
· A newly-built home decorated in late Georgian/early Victorian styles
· An exploration of Durham in north-east England
· Blending patterns, texture, light and shade to create a modern romantic interior
With an eclectic and imaginative mix of articles, history, and unique places to visit that are off the usual tourist track, this magazine inspires my inner traveler. I usually read this magazine with a package of red tape-flags at hand so I can keep track of the sites I "must add" to my ever-growing list of places to visit on my next trip to England. One of my favorite features: Each issue includes a list of novel places to stay in the UK, from unique inns and hotels to country estates and city townhouses. A few of the features from the last issue:

·         A tour of Abbotsford House, the home of Sir Walter Scott

·         A feature on "Essential Lancashire" that includes a guide to Blackpool, the fortunes of Georgian merchant families, and walking in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkein

·         Aboard King Henry VIII's warship Mary Rose

·         Roald Dahl's writing hut

·         Touring an Edwardian English country garden

 Every issue inspires me to discover a part of England I've never seen before.
This is another magazine that ends up decorated with multiple red tape-flags by the time I'm done reading each issue. Take the latest (November) issue for example: it has an article on the discovery of the remains of Richard III as well as a four-page, center-fold article on the history of English puddings. Yum. And did I mention there were pictures of puddings? And can I just say that some of those aforementioned pictured puddings were covered with awesomesauce (commonly known as "custard")? Thanks to this educational article, I’m ambitiously planning to expand my thinking beyond plum pudding for my 2013 Christmas celebration; I’m currently hunting down recipes for Cumberland Rum Nicky, Spotted Dick and Bakewell pudding. To give you an idea of this magazine's variety, the same issue had an article on bike-riding through the Derbyshire Peak District and a 6-day guided tour from the Wye Valley to Shropshire. My favorite article in this issue (aside from those four heavenly pages devoted to pudding) was a feature on the old-fashioned way tweed is still made in the Outer Hebrides.  

The lure of this magazine is that it provides a window into the English lifestyle, past and present. It reminds me a little of Reminisce magazine because many of its articles are written from the reader’s perspective. In the current edition, there’s an article on the original WWII Land Girls, a tribute to Thackeray, and a lovely two-page feature from a fledgling gardener as she readies her cottage garden for winter for the first time. There’s also a charming article by a woman who took a trip back to the old Essex childhood home her family lived in for 70 years, a list of favorite sandwiches submitted by readers, and a fun fact page full of old English words, phrases and lingo.  

By the way, what do you call a horse’s attempt to dump his rider?  

a) croupade

b) estrapade

c) caracole

d) ballotade

You’ll find the correct answer at the end of this post.
I love this publication because it demonstrates quiet pride in its countrymen, honors its veterans, and unabashedly celebrates the English way of life. There’s an unbelievable amount of information and charm in every issue, along with beautiful photographs and Colin Carr’s delightful artwork.   
The publishers of Britain bill it as “The Official Magazine.” It has my vote, too, for being the best guide out there on what today’s England has to offer. Every issue is a traveler’s dream, filled with tried-and-true as well as new-and-unique destinations to visit. Want to experience London’s theatre district? There’s an article for that. Wonder what the top 12 best British sites are that you absolutely must experience? There’s an article for that. Where can you eat Dickensian-style food in London? There’s an article for that, too.  Add linger-over-every-image quality photographs on each page and this publication makes you want to jump on the next plane bound for Heathrow. 

So now, I ask you: With such wonderful magazines coming to my mailbox, how can I possibly choose a favorite? I can’t, but I can keep plying my mail carrier with  Starbucks gift cards and find creative ways to let him know I appreciate the care he takes in delivering my England magazines in pristine condition. Tony, your next latte’s on me. 

Do you subscribe to magazines about England? What are your favorite magazines and why? 


b) estrapade 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Prepare the Barouche; I'm Going to the Thea-tah

At last! I'm finally counting down the days until I see Austenland! I've been looking forward to this movie (based on the novel by Shannon Hale) since I first heard about it in January. The film opened yesterday in Los Angeles and New York. Here are a few of the review tweets I read this morning:

And USA Today says "Austenland is spirited and gently witty."

The film, like the book, pays homage to modern-day Janeites who just can't get enough of Mr. Darcy and, if given the chance, wouldn't mind indulging in a little Pride and Prejudice role-playing.

Sony's release schedule has the film opening in my city on August 30 and I'll be there! I hope it comes to your town soon. You can check your city's release date here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sense and Sensibility: The Musical

I love going to the theater and seeing productions everyone's talking about; but every once in a while, I get to see a new play that hasn't yet hit the critics' radar screens. Denver is fortunate to be the venue where many productions premier their plays before heading to New York or embarking on a national tour. That was the case with Sense & Sensibility: The Musical.

It's a charming version of one of my favorite Jane Austen novels and it didn't disappoint me. The cast was exceptional, the costumes by Emilio Sosa (one of my all-time favorite Project Runway designers) were a visual treat, and the music and lyrics helped move the story along. I'll even confess to getting a little misty-eyed during Marianne and Colonel Brandon's duet; it was so sweet and touching!

I hope you get a chance to see this wonderful production. In the meantime, follow this link to the Facebook page for Sense & Sensibility: the Musical, where you can read more about the production, see pictures of the performance, and hear the songs.

Click on this link to read an article from Broadway World about the sold-out performances of SSTM's Denver world premier.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jane Austen to be face of the Bank of England £10 note

The Bank of England announced that Jane Austen's image will appear on the new £10 bank note.

The new bank note featuring the beloved author of Pride and Prejudice will probably start appearing in 2017.

In addition to Jane Austen's image, the bank note's planned design includes:
  • A quote from Pride and Prejudice - "I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!"
  • An illustration of Elizabeth Bennet, one of the characters in Pride and Prejudice
  • An image of Godmersham Park in Kent - the home of Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen Knight, and the inspiration for a number of novels
  • A central background design of the author's writing table which she used at home at Chawton Cottage in Hampshire
You can read about the announcement and the public campaign that influenced the Bank of England's decision.