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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

Dec 30, 2012

Closing out 2012

I've been remiss for many months, and feel the need to offer up a year-end blog post.

In September and October I was in England. After a few days in Hampshire visiting country estates and historic gardens (all beautifully in bloom) and visiting friends, I settled in London. My reasons for being there were several--attending the Historical Novel Society's UK conference, seeing friends, and visiting several royal palaces.

I began at Hampton Court for the special portrait exhibition in which my novel's female protagonist was featured. I've been gazing at her life-sized image (normally hanging in the King's Dining Room) ever since my schooldays, and never before have I had the advantage of viewing the Duchess at such extremely close range.

The gardens designed by Queen Mary II (also a character in the novel) were looking especially lovely.

On another day I returned to Kensington Palace to explore the new visitors' centre and the current arrangement of the rooms. Here I am taking my own photo in the looking glass. The type of porcelain Queen Mary collected adorns the mantel.

A crucial scene in my story takes place at this very window!

Posing with Queen Mary.

The conference was terrific. I spent time in the Manuscripts Room at the British Library, where I accessed letters referring to the Duke during his time in Vienna before and after his participation in the Siege of Belgrade.

According to some sources, the pudding has been associated with Christmas since about the 1670s, although it contained raisins and other dried fruits rather than plums. Thus, the people in my book would have been familiar with a precursor to this Christmas Day treat in my own household:

More to come in 2013!

Sep 16, 2012

Summer Break

During this busy summer, the lack of time and the necessity of devoting my attention to projects connected with my other pen name prevented my blogging here. So, in a deviation from the historical focus, I present illustrations of things I've done--in addition to travelling, writing, editing, and planning more travel.

A recent meet-up with my good friend Tess Gerritsen. She and I and our husbands spent time together when her book tour brought her into our territory.

As vice chair of the committee charged with presenting candidates for diocesan bishop, I rejoiced on the day of his consecration--the culmination of my year and a half of work.

From May until now, the primary setting for my writing and editing work has been our lake cottage. The dogs are very patient while I'm busy on the laptop, and we all enjoy our woodland walks.

Currently I'm planning the next UK trip. I look forward to visiting my novel's heroine, whose portrait graces the exhibition now on view at Hampton Court Palace. In London I'll be researching--and writing--the next novel, and meeting up with other historical novelists. Photos to come!

Jun 20, 2012

Historic Roses

As a gardener, I've incorporated many historic and heritage roses in my garden, covering a span of centuries. These are some that my late-17th century characters would have known. Rosa canina, Dog Rose, English hedge rose.

York and Lancaster, a damask rose dating from the 1500's.

Tuscany, a gallica from the 1590's. Also known as The Velvet Rose, and for good reason.

Rosa gallica versicolor, called Rosa mundi or Fair Rosamund's Rose, for supposed associations with Henry II's mistress. It was first identified by this name about 1581 but is likely much older.

Another damask, Quatre Saisons, the fabled Four Seasons Rose, also known as the Autumn Damask for its reblooming ability. The oldest rose I grow, dates to ancient times.

All the varieties shown here bloomed mostly in June--the dog rose might appear a bit earlier--and after a few weeks of flowering, no more blossoms. With the exception of the Autumn Damask. This was the case until late in the 18th century, and the importation of China roses, from which re-blooming varieties were bred.

In a future post, I'll share some 18th century specimens.

Apr 5, 2012

Today Historic Royal Palaces released a brief video with information about the current exhibition at Hampton Court. I'm delighted to spot my novel's heroine hovering over Brett Dolman's left shoulder!

Later in the year I will visit Hampton Court to view the exhibit. Looking forward to it very much indeed!

Feb 15, 2012


The year 1688 is known as the date of the Glorious Revolution, when Prince William of Orange came to England--at the invitation of Protestant lords and officials, who objected to his father-in-law James II's pro-Catholic policies and flouting of English law. Early in 1689, Parliament designated William and his wife Mary, James's daughter, as King and Queen.

Also in 1688, an ancestor of mine was the warden of this secluded rural church in Worcestershire. Did he welcome William's arrival and James's departure, or oppose the change?

The loyalties of his father, church warden and landowner in this neighbouring parish, are documented--he was a Royalist. During the Civil War he served as Captain of Horse in the King's Army.

When researching and writing historical events, I can't help wondering how my own family members felt about them.

Jan 20, 2012

The Duke's Flask

In the vast silver collection of London's Victoria & Albert Museum is a spirits flask that belonged to the duke in my novel. It was made for him around the time that he was fighting in Hungary and was distinguished by his heroism at the Siege of Belgrade. The silversmith who created it engraved the ducal arms, granted by King Charles II.

The crest, showing the bar sinister, evidence of illegitmacy. The duke was one of the King's many bastard sons.

Engraved on the other side of the flask is the duke's monogram set beneath a ducal coronet.

The flask has three pieces. The stopper, the vessel that held the spirits, and the detachable drinking cup.

This luxurious accessory surely accompanied His Grace on many an interesting adventure.

Jan 17, 2012

Passion for Passiflora

Ever since I was a child, the passion flower's fragile beauty and intricacy has enchanted. I once lived in a place where it grew wild by the roadside.

Though my current home is inhospitably frigid to grow the species outdoors, I have a large pot in which I can grow passiflora pentafilia (for it's 5-lobed leaves) and overwinter it indoors. Here it is during summertime bloom.

And here is the other variety I grow, passiflora caerulea, with the very deep blue, almost purple fringe.

As seen in this late 17th century botanical print commissioned by the Duchess of Beaufort, both varieties were grown as exotics by aristocratic plant collectors.

The plants were brought to Europe from tropical regions. Jesuit missionaries in Mexico called it the Flower of the Five Wounds for the five stamens, and finding within it other symbols of Christ's crucifixion. Ten petals for the 10 faithful apostles (excluding Judas the Betrayer and Peter the Denier), an inner corona for the Crown of Thorns, three round-headed "nails" and a "hammer" in the center. The flower lasts only a day, and forms a fruit I once knew as a "maypop" because of the noise it made when stepped on.

Over time, additional varieties were discovered, and modern hybrids were created. I used to grow this one, called Lady Margaret. It didn't quite live up to its billing, and the plant didn't thrive like the blue ones. I should give it another chance.

Queen Mary II, an important character in my novel, was known to grow passion flowers in her hothouses or the open air. Which explains why so many of them can be found in the gardens of Het Loo, the palace she and her husband built in Holland--where I photographed the one below.

Jan 2, 2012

Historical Background

Dr. Starkey provides the historical basis for parts of my novel, and shows some of the locations. This section of his television series runs 16 minutes, but it's worth viewing if you are interested--and have the time!