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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Historical Novel Society Conference 2017, June 22-25

This will be my 4th time attending my favourite writers' gathering, and I've had the pleasure of participating in the UK as well as the US conference. The HNS is an international organization and sponsors major conferences on three continents. This week in, Portland, Oregon, at the Hilton Downtown on SW Sixth Avenue.  In September, our Australasia branch holds its conference in Melbourne. Next year, Edinburgh, Scotland. We cover the globe!

On Friday, 23 June, I'm a panelist for the session MIXING IT UP: Historical Writing in Multiple Genres, with colleagues Susan HigginbothamKris Waldherr,  and Aimie K. Runyan. On Saturday, with fellow 17th century novelist Gillian Bagwell, I'm hostessing a Koffee Klatch for the public Readers' Festival titled FROM THE MERRY MONARCH TO THE FOUR GEORGES: 17th and 18th Century London Coffee House Conversation. And, making use of my on-stage experience, I'll be reading aloud introductory pages submitted for immediate comment and critique by editors.

The Book Signing, Saturday afternoon from 3.45 to 5.15, will feature 120 authors of historical fiction, and I'll be one of them. Two of my titles will be available, and I'll hand out bookmarks and happily chat with readers and writers.


It takes as long to fly to Portland as it does to London, and though I'll be there but a short time, I'm looking forward to the trip--a chance to meet up with seldom-seen writing comrades and editors I've worked with in the past, make new friends, and talk with histfic readers. And as an avid rosarian, I am very eager to visit Portland's International Rose Test Garden!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Brief History of the Giraffe: the Mammal Formerly Known as the Cameleopard

Like so many people around the world, in recent days--weeks, actually--my attention has been glued to the Animal Adventure Park's Giraffe Cam, as April and her mate Oliver await the arrival of their first calf together. An experienced mother, this is her fourth time bearing young. If you suppose putting giraffes on display is a new phenomenon, I can assure you it is not.

In A Pledge of Better Times, when Lady Diana visits the Tower of London--on a historic and tragic occasion in the summer of 1685--she's eager to see the lions in the Royal Menagerie. For centuries, foreign rulers had presented exotic animals to the English monarch, but the giraffe was not one of them. During the Stuart age it was a known species, but it hadn't yet arrived in Britain. Diana would have imagined one that looked something like this:

The earliest artists who rendered the giraffe had not actually seen one and were working from verbal descriptions only--which is why the ossicones initially appear as sharp horns. In times past, the animal was called the Camelopard or Camelopardel or Cameleopard from an ancient belief that it was a hybrid of the two! Of course, this is scientifically impossible but the description fits. In common with a camel, it has a long neck and long legs and hooves. Like a leopard, it has spotted markings. It is a ruminant (cud-chewing vegetarian, subsisting on plants and leaves) and an ungulate (hoofed mammal).

Giraffe in early Asian art
By the 16th century, the cameleopard featured in English heraldry, and from the 17th century it was illustrated in woodcuts. Carl Linnaeus Latinised the common name when designating the giraffe as the Cervus cameleopardis in the mid-18th century. Two decades later the name giraffe was added, from zarāfah, its Arabic name. Multiple species and sub-species originated in Africa and over time they were identified by their geography. Giraffa cameleopardis is the Northern giraffe, Giraffa giraffa is the Southern one, and there are more.

Giraffe illustration in a Greek text

European version of a giraffe

In 1827, in the reign of George IV, the first living giraffe reached England.

His Majesty's Giraffe, a gift from Egypt

The satirical printmakers took notice. Here, in an imaginary scene, the overweight King and his mistress are riding the giraffe.

His Majesty on the giraffe

The poor beast survived the English climate and diet for a mere two years.

Most of us are well aware of the tragic depredations to the wild elephant and rhino populations, but the plight of the giraffe is less well known. I'm thankful that the expectant couple, April and Oliver, and the intense publicity centred on their home at Animal Adventure Park have expanded education and information about the plight of their species. Knowledgeable fans can tell you the pair are reticulated giraffes. This type is sometimes referred to as the Somali giraffe and lives in that country as well as parts of Kenya and Ethiopia. The current status of this subspecies is Vulnerable, placing it in the Threatened category with a native population reduced to 9000 or less.

During my husband's travels in West Africa, he was fortunate to see a herd of Kordofan giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis antiquorum). I stayed in England to carry out novel research and concentrate on family matters, and during his weeks on the subcontinent maintaining telephone contact was challenging to say the least. But I clearly recall how thrilled I was when he described that experience, and on seeing his photographs of wild giraffes. According to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, this is one of the most threatened subspecies, with only 2000 remaining in the wild.

All my life, from my very youngest years, I've loved the stately, graceful giraffe. In grad school, my first film project featured giraffes, and I've been privileged to view them in several of the world's most renowned zoos. Over the years, the care, nutrition, and habitats of these creatures have become ever more sophisticated and scientifically based. Numbers and longevity within wild native herds have drastically declined, due to poaching, predation (primarily by big cats and hyenas), starvation from drought, and other factors. A giraffe is lucky if it lives a dozen years. For this reason, captive breeding programs like the one involving April and Oliver become increasingly important--and necessary. Though we might feel concern about so many wild species living in captivity and confinement, their survival now requires it. A giraffe raised at a zoo or wildlife park can reach twenty-five years, or more. There are various organization devoted to preserving giraffes, and they provide all kinds of online information and resources.

If you wish to contribute to the care of April, her calf-daddy Oliver, and their offspring, visit the official April the Giraffe GoFundMe Page.

I'm somewhat familiar with the area where the animal park is located. Although I've not yet visited it, my Giraffe Cam viewing leads me to contemplate a trip to meet the parents, their new arrival, and the many other exotic and domestic animals and wildlife in residence there.

You can follow @ApriltheGiraffe on Twitter

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome, 2017!

A very happy New Year to friends near and far, new and old!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book Review: Duty to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

Duty to the Crown, second book in the Daughters of New France series by Aimie K. Runyan, Kensington Books, 2016, 352 pp.

The principal characters in Duty to the Crown, covering the years 1677-1680 in Quebec, appeared in Promised to the Crown, the initial novel in Runyan's Daughters of New France series. Nicole, Rose, and Elisabeth, female protagonists of that book, are now established in their marriages and their enterprises and focus shifts to their younger counterparts.

Manon, the native girl skilled in medicines and healing, still feels torn between her own culture and that of the French settlers--the Lefebvre family--who raised her and whom she abruptly deserted. After her banishment by her own people she returns to them, struggling to re-integrate herself into the white world, where she's regarded with suspicion, prejudice, and at times, outright hostility. At the top of the social scale is her foster mother Nicole Lefebvre, whose sisters--gentle Emmanuelle and bold, self-centered Claudine--and Elisabeth's adopted daughter Gabrielle--are her contemporaries. All the young women are expected to make suitable marriages and avoid scandal. In order to fulfill their duty to the Crown and their families, they must foster French civilisation and culture in this remote and harsh landscape and expand the colony's population and prosperity through childbearing.

The author skillfully and compellingly renders the setting and living conditions as she depicts the loves, longings, heartbreak, and challenges faced by her female and male characters. The bonds of friendship and the commitment to responsibilities ring true as members of the community encounter the harsher realities of life in a treacherous yet promising new world. Marital strife and struggles are as sensitively depicted as harmony, success, justice and reconciliation. This novel and the preceding one are very highly recommended to readers of historical fiction and particularly for those seeking an alternative to courtly novels set in 17th century Europe.

*I received an Advance Reading Copy of this title prior to publication for review purposes.

Also recommended:


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Very Bad Baron

My latest article for English Historical Fiction Authors. A truly terrible individual, who has a cameo appearance in A Pledge of Better Times. High on my list of candidates for Worst Person of the Stuart Age!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Travels & Research

With September's arrival I left behind city home and lake cottage, where I've been hard at work on the next novel, for the first of two research trips.

During my time away I was living in a palatial residence of the sort familiar to my protagonist during a significant period of her life. Here are some photos of my splendid surroundings:

Dwarfed by the splendour!

The ballroom from the balcony

The largest of the dining rooms

Another area sometimes used for dining

The gallery

Detail in one parlour

Detail of fireplace mantel

Practising ballet moves in front of mirrored wall

As you see, a beautiful location. And the weather was ideal!

Already looking forward to my next journey . . . .

Friday, August 12, 2016


A very productive summer so far for writing, interspersed with travel and author activities. I haven't much to share about the work-in-progress, except that it's progressing. So here are some highlights from my professional and personal life

A booksigning

A photo shoot

Feeding a friend

Sunset at my lake cottage

My companions

A bloom on one of my 90+ rose bushes

Research for the current book

I hope you're having a lovely summer as well!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Characters in Motion Series spotlights A Pledge of Better Times

I'm featured at the wonderful Layered Pages blog, sharing insights about the characters in A Pledge of Better Times.

My thanks to Stephanie for some wonderful interview questions for this series! I've so enjoyed reading other authors' contributions and highly recommend them.

Characters in Motion: Bestselling Author Margaret Porter

Friday, July 15, 2016

Monmouth's Execution Anniversary & More

 On this date in 1685, the Duke of Monmouth--a half-brother of my protagonist the Duke of St Albans--was executed on Tower Hill. Here is my article on the event for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog:

An Execution Timeline: The Duke of Monmouth's Last Days

It is the second time I've written in detail about this gruesome event, also depicted in A Pledge of Better Times.

Here are links to other history blogs I've written lately:

Playing the Provinces: 18th Century Actors on the Move, Part 1 (Liverpool & Manchester)

Playing the Provinces: 18th Century Actors on the Move, Part 2 (York, Bristol & Bath)

The Tragic Tragedian: William Brereton of Drury Lane

The Herbal in England: A Brief History

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Recent Travels and Writings

At Easter I travelled to a part of the US where spring was fully unfurled and history is alive. It was a holiday rather than a research trip, but I had opportunities for book promotion.

Beautiful Savannah!

One of Savannah's many squares.

One of the city's many historic houses

Faux bois panelling in the dining room

Bonaventure Cemetery

Camellia  blossom

I've lately done more blogging at English Historical Fiction Writers than I've done here. Some links to the latest:

Mistress of More Variety: Actress Susanna Verbruggen

English Garden History: Spring Guide

Valentine's Day History

And I offered some book reviews on a book blogging site:

Author Margaret Porter’s Five Top Reads

Enjoying wild roses

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Death of King Charles II

The precise cause of His Majesty's death, which occurred on 6 Februrary, 1685, is uncertain. His autopsy revealed fluid in the brain. This led to the relatively recent conclusion that he suffered acute poisoning from proximity to mercury vapour in his laboratory.
What is known is that he suffered an apoplectic attack (now referred to as an "epileptic seizure") on the morning of 2 February. This date is considered the birthday of mistress Nell Gwyn, mother of his son Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans--who at that time was nearly fifteen years old. Although the young duke spent much of his adolescence in Paris, where he was educated, he happened to be in England at that time and was present as his father lay dying at Whitehall Palace.

The king had slept badly and on waking on the morning of the 6th was "pale as ashes." At the time he was suffering from a sore on his legs, and the royal doctors had come to his rooms to change the dressing. Rather than joining them, Charles returned to his bedchamber. His speech was somewhat impaired. He took a glass of sherry and, still in his nightgown, prepared to be shaved.

Before the razor was applied, he let out what was later described as "the most dreadfulest shriek" and fell back unconscious into his barber's arm.

All the usual 17th century medical applications were attempted--bleeding, blisters--and perhaps it was the agony they produced that revived the king. He asked to see the Queen. The doctors continued torturing the patient with potions containing cantharides, vitriol, sal ammoniac, and one containing spirits of human skull.

Occasionally he would rally, but finally succumbed to another convulsion followed by a fever. Word of his decline was spreading beyond the palace walls.

Anti-Catholic sentiment was so great that many people assumed that the king had been poisoned. Sir Charles Lyttelton reported "his disease being, as is supposed, has fallen upon his lungs which makes him labour to breathe." Some modern authorities speculate that he was a victim of a kidney complaint, resulting in uraemia. Others propose that many hours he spent in his laboratory led to some form of chemical poisoning. The onset of his complaint was characterised by an epileptic seizure, which apparently affected brain function. The original post-mortem was destroyed when Whitehall Palace burned to the ground in 1697. A copy quoted in the British Medical Journal is inconclusive, as the autopsies of that era were less sophisticated than those of today.

Whatever felled the king, in his final hours he was surrounded by doctors, clerics, and family members. At that time a royal death, like a royal birth, was extremely public. Those in attendance included, at intervals, Queen Catherine of Braganza, various royal mistress (thought Nell Gwyn was excluded from the sickroom), and the royal bastards--though not the Duke of Monmouth, who was living in exile at the Dutch court of his cousins, Prince William and Princess Mary of Orange.

King Charles famously remembered the Duchess of Portsmouth--the Frenchwoman, Louise de Kerouaille. He charged his brother (and successor) James, Duke of York, not to let "poor Nelly" starve and requested that he care for her son and ensure that his mother didn't spoil him.

It was to young Charles Beauclerk that the king gave a memento of his own father. While still lucid, he asked that a gold and carnelian ring be taken from his hand and given to his illegitimate son. Charles I wore the ring when he arrived at the scaffold with Bishop Juxon (later Archbishop of Canterbury.) Before his execution he presented it to the bishop, who later delivered it to Charles II. The ring is set with an intaglio depicting Charles I in the guise of a Roman Emperor, wearing armour, and the closed back is decorated with coloured enamel. This memento of two Stuart kings remains in the possession of the Beauclerk family.

The king's deathbed conversion to Catholicism was achieved by Father Huddleston, who had been with Charles at the battle of Worcester. When he entered the sickroom through a secret door, Charles supposedly greeted him with the words, "You who have saved my body are now come to save my soul." After making his confession, he received the sacrament, and Huddleston read the prayers for the dying.

At six o'clock in the morning of 6 February, the king asked that the curtains be drawn back so he could see the dawn breaking one last time. He also requested the winding of his clock. After that his speech failed him, and by ten o'clock he had fallen into a coma. He died between eleven-thirty and noon, aged fifty-five.

The King saw one more sunrise lighten the sky before he slept, never to wake again. By midday Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans, was no longer the son of a living monarch.

                        A Pledge of Better Times