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17 November 2014

Remembering Dorothy Dunnett

The weekend before last, my daughter Mélanie and I spent the afternoon at a wonderful lunch party celebrating the Scottish Historical Novelist Dorothy Dunnett. All around the world, Dunnett readers gather on International Dorothy Dunnett Day (the Saturday closest to November 9, the date of her death) to celebrate her work. At 1:00, we toast in her favorite Highland Park Whisky. The pictures above shows our group toasting and below you see Mel and me with our lovely hostess Olive DePonte.

Dunnett has been a huge influence on me as a writer, and this seems a good time to repeat a post about her work and her influence on my writing that I first put up in 2007. 

I first discovered Dorothy Dunnett’s books the summer between high school and college. I picked up “The Game of Kings”, the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, and spent a couple of days curled up on the sofa, glued to the page. I promptly devoured the rest of the six volume series. I told my mother she had to read them. It took her a bit of time to get into “The Game of Kings”, but soon she was as hooked as I was.

For those who haven’t yet discovered the Lymond Chronicles, the series begins in 16th century Scotland (when Mary, Queen of Scots, is a young child) and ranges all over the Continent. At the heart of the series is Francis Crawford of Lymond, mercenary, scholar, musician. Brilliant, tortured, an enigma to the reader and to most of the other characters. A lot of the fun of the series is trying to find the key to the fascinating code of who Lymond is, both literally (his parentage is in question) and in psychological terms. There’s a wonderful supporting cast of characters, both real historical figures and fictional characters blended seamlessly together. There’s adventure, angst, political intrigue, witty dialogue, and poetic allusions. The writing is wonderfully rich (Dunnett was also a painter), the pacing breakneck.

After the Lymond Chronicles, my mom and I both read Dunnett’s stand alone novel “King Hereafter” and her contemporary mysteries. And then to our excitement, she began a new series, the House of Niccolò, set in the 15th century, beginning in Bruges but again ranging all over, this time as far as Timbucktu and Iceland. The hero of the new series was a young dyeworks apprentice named Nicholas, dismissed as a buffoon by many but with abilities which lead him to rise in the commercial world and pull him into political intrigue in more than one country. Again, fictional events are blended with real historical events and mysteries abound. Reading the Lymond Chronicles, I thought, “it would have been really hard to read these as they were written and have to wait for each book.” With the House of Niccolò we had to do just that, with two years or so between each book. With their complex characters, intricate plots, and cliffhanger endings, the Dunnett books cry out for discussion. My mom and I talked about them endlessly, but we didn’t know anyone else who read them. I was thrilled to meet fellow writer Penelope Williamson and discover she was also a Dunnett reader. Penny and I spent many long lunches analyzing Dunnett’s books and speculating about what would happen next in the Niccolò series.

Then, in the mid-nineties, Penny and I both got online. We discovered there were whole online groups devoted to discussing Dunnett’s novels. Suddenly we could analyze and speculate with people all over the world. Dunnett readers tend to be a wonderul group–warm, friendly, well-read. I’ve had a great time geting together with fellow Dunnett readers both in the Bay Area and while traveling. In 2000, Penny and I and a number of our other Dunnett-reading friends went to Scotland for a conference in honor of the publication of the last book in the House of Niccolò series. Even now the series is finished (and Dunnett sadly passed away a few years ago) we love to get together online and in person to discuss Dunnett books and other books (not to mention tv shows from “Deadwood” to “Spooks/MI-5″ to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (which seems to be a particular favorite with Dunnett readers) :-).

Dunnett talked about reading and being influenced by other writers I love–Sabatini, Orczy, Heyer (certainly you can see bits of Andre-Louis Moreau and Percy Blakeney in Lymond, no to mention a touch of Peter Wimsey). She’s been a huge influence on me. I can see a number of echoes of her books looking at “Secrets of a Lady”–the conflict between brothers, questions about parentage, the loss of a child. I still pull out her books and reread certain scenes when I have to tackle an action sequence or a sword fight (“The Game of Kings” has the best sword fight I’ve ever read).

Have you read Dunnett? Do you enjoy discussing her books? Are there other authors you discuss with friends, online or in person?

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10 November 2014

Travels in England, 1782: The Theatre in the Haymarket


Last week I went twice to an English play-house.  The first time “The Nabob” was represented, of which the late Mr. Foote was the author, and for the entertainment, a very pleasing and laughable musical farce, called “The Agreeable Surprise.”  The second time I saw “The English Merchant:” which piece has been translated into German, and is known among us by the title of “The Scotchwoman,” or “The Coffee-house.”  I have not yet seen the theatres of Covent Garden and Drury Lane, because they are not open in summer.  The best actors also usually spend May and October in the country, and only perform in winter.

A very few excepted, the comedians whom I saw were certainly nothing extraordinary.  For a seat in the boxes you pay five shillings, in the pit three, in the first gallery two, and in the second or upper gallery, one shilling.  And it is the tenants in this upper gallery who, for their shilling, make all that noise and uproar for which the English play-houses are so famous.  I was in the pit, which gradually rises, amphitheatre-wise, from the orchestra, and is furnished with benches, one above another, from the top to the bottom.  Often and often, whilst I sat there, did a rotten orange, or pieces of the peel of an orange, fly past me, or past some of my neighbours, and once one of them actually hit my hat, without my daring to look round, for fear another might then hit me on my face.

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence.  At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders an English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up.  I saw a miller’s, or a baker’s boy, thus, like a huge booby, leaning over the rails and knocking again and again on the outside, with all his might, so that he was seen by everybody, without being in the least ashamed or abashed.  I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one.  Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat, which I could avoid only by sparing him as much space from my portion of the seat as would make him a footstool.  In the boxes, quite in a corner, sat several servants, who were said to be placed there to keep the seats for the families they served till they should arrive; they seemed to sit remarkably close and still, the reason of which, I was told, was their apprehension of being pelted; for if one of them dares but to look out of the box, he is immediately saluted with a shower of orange peel from the gallery.

In Foote’s “Nabob” there are sundry local and personal satires which are entirely lost to a foreigner.  The character of the Nabob was performed by a Mr. Palmer.  The jett of the character is, this Nabob, with many affected airs and constant aims at gentility, is still but a silly fellow, unexpectedly come into the possession of immense riches, and therefore, of course, paid much court to by a society of natural philosophers, Quakers, and I do not know who besides.  Being tempted to become one of their members, he is elected, and in order to ridicule these would-be philosophers, but real knaves, a fine flowery fustian speech is put into his mouth, which he delivers with prodigious pomp and importance, and is listened to by the philosophers with infinite complacency.  The two scenes of the Quakers and philosophers, who, with countenances full of imaginary importance, were seated at a green table with their president at their head while the secretary, with the utmost care, was making an inventory of the ridiculous presents of the Nabob, were truly laughable.  One of the last scenes was best received: it is that in which the Nabob’s friend and school-fellow visit him, and address him without ceremony by his Christian name; but to all their questions of “Whether he does not recollect them?  Whether he does not remember such and such a play; or such and such a scrape into which they had fallen in their youth?” he uniformly answers with a look of ineffable contempt, only, “No sir!”  Nothing can possibly be more ludicrous, nor more comic.

The entertainment, “The Agreeable Surprise,” is really a very diverting farce.  I observed that, in England also, they represent school-masters in ridiculous characters on the stage, which, though I am sorry for, I own I do not wonder at, as the pedantry of school-masters in England, they tell me, is carried at least as far as it is elsewhere.  The same person who, in the play, performed the school-fellow of the Nabob with a great deal of nature and original humour, here acted the part of the school-master: his name is Edwin, and he is, without doubt, one of the best actors of all that I have seen.

This school-master is in love with a certain country girl, whose name is Cowslip, to whom he makes a declaration of his passion in a strange mythological, grammatical style and manner, and to whom, among other fooleries, he sings, quite enraptured, the following air, and seems to work himself at least up to such a transport of passion as quite overpowers him.  He begins, you will observe, with the conjugation, and ends with the declensions and the genders; the whole is inimitably droll:


“Amo, amas,
I love a lass,
She is so sweet and tender,
It is sweet Cowslip’s Grace
In the Nominative Case.
And in the feminine Gender.”


Those two sentences in particular, “in the Nominative Case,” and “in the feminine Gender,” he affects to sing in a particularly languishing air, as if confident that it was irresistible.  This Edwin, in all his comic characters, still preserves something so inexpressibly good-tempered in his countenance, that notwithstanding all his burlesques and even grotesque buffoonery, you cannot but be pleased with him.  I own, I felt myself doubly interested for every character which he represented.  Nothing could equal the tone and countenance of self-satisfaction with which he answered one who asked him whether he was a scholar?  “Why, I was a master of scholars.”  A Mrs. Webb represented a cheesemonger, and played the part of a woman of the lower class so naturally as I have nowhere else ever seen equalled.  Her huge, fat, and lusty carcase, and the whole of her external appearance seemed quite to be cut out for it.

Poor Edwin was obliged, as school-master, to sing himself almost hoarse, as he sometimes was called on to repeat his declension and conjugation songs two or three times, only because it pleased the upper gallery, or “the gods,” as the English call them, to roar out “encore.”  Add to all this, he was farther forced to thank them with a low bow for the great honour done him by their applause.

One of the highest comic touches in the piece seemed to me to consist in a lie, which always became more and more enormous in the mouths of those who told it again, during the whole of the piece.  This kept the audience in almost a continual fit of laughter.  This farce is not yet printed, or I really think I should be tempted to venture to make a translation, or rather an imitation of it.

“The English Merchant, or the Scotchwoman,” I have seen much better performed abroad than it was here.  Mr. Fleck, at Hamburg, in particular, played the part of the English merchant with more interest, truth, and propriety than one Aickin did here.  He seemed to me to fail totally in expressing the peculiar and original character of Freeport; instead of which, by his measured step and deliberate, affected manner of speaking, he converted him into a mere fine gentleman.

The trusty old servant who wishes to give up his life for his master he, too, had the stately walk, or strut, of a minister.  The character of the newspaper writer was performed by the same Mr. Palmer who acted the part of the Nabob, but every one said, what I thought, that he made him far too much of a gentleman.  His person, and his dress also, were too handsome for the character.

The character of Amelia was performed by an actress, who made her first appearance on the stage, and from a timidity natural on such an occasion, and not unbecoming, spoke rather low, so that she could not everywhere be heard; “Speak louder! speak louder!” cried out some rude fellow from the upper-gallery, and she immediately, with infinite condescension, did all she could, and not unsuccessfully, to please even an upper gallery critic.

The persons near me, in the pit, were often extravagantly lavish of their applause.  They sometimes clapped a single solitary sentiment, that was almost as unmeaning as it was short, if it happened to be pronounced only with some little emphasis, or to contain some little point, some popular doctrine, a singularly pathetic stroke, or turn of wit.

“The Agreeable Surprise” was repeated, and I saw it a second time with unabated pleasure.  It is become a favourite piece, and always announced with the addition of the favourite musical farce.  The theatre appeared to me somewhat larger than the one at Hamburg, and the house was both times very full.  Thus much for English plays, play-houses, and players.

03 November 2014

TRAVELS IN ENGLAND 1782: Vauxhall

More from Mr. Charles P. Moritz, this time his visit to the famous pleasure garden:

"I yesterday visited Vauxhall for the first time.  I had not far to go from my lodgings, in the Adelphi Buildings, to Westminster Bridge, where you always find a great number of boats on the Thames, which are ready on the least signal to serve those who will pay them a shilling or sixpence, or according to the distance.

From hence I went up the Thames to Vauxhall, and as I passed along I saw Lambeth; and the venerable old palace belonging to the archbishops of Canterbury lying on my left.

Vauxhall is, properly speaking, the name of a little village in which the garden, now almost exclusively bearing the same name, is situated.  You pay a shilling entrance.

On entering it, I really found, or fancied I found, some resemblance to our Berlin Vauxhall, if, according to Virgil, I may be permitted to compare small things with great ones.  The walks at least, with the paintings at the end, and the high trees, which, here and there form a beautiful grove, or wood, on either side, were so similar to those of Berlin, that often, as I walked along them, I seemed to transport myself, in imagination, once more to Berlin, and forgot for a moment that immense seas, and mountains, and kingdoms now lie between us.  I was the more tempted to indulge in this reverie as I actually met with several gentlemen, inhabitants of Berlin, in particular Mr. S--r, and some others, with whom I spent the evening in the most agreeable manner.  Here and there (particularly in one of the charming woods which art has formed in this garden) you are pleasingly surprised by the sudden appearance of the statues of the most renowned English poets and philosophers, such as Milton, Thomson, and others.  But, what gave me most pleasure was the statue of the German composer Handel, which, on entering the garden, is not far distant from the orchestra.

This orchestra is among a number of trees situated as in a little wood, and is an exceedingly handsome one.  As you enter the garden, you immediately hear the sound of vocal and instrumental music.  There are several female singers constantly hired here to sing in public.

On each side of the orchestra are small boxes, with tables and benches, in which you sup.  The walks before these, as well as in every other part of the garden, are crowded with people of all ranks.  I supped here with Mr. S--r, and the secretary of the Prussian ambassador, besides a few other gentlemen from Berlin; but what most astonished me was the boldness of the women of the town, who often rushed in upon us by half dozens, and in the most shameless manner importuned us for wine, for themselves and their followers.  Our gentlemen thought it either unwise, unkind, or unsafe, to refuse them so small a boon altogether.

Latish in the evening we were entertained with a sight, that is indeed singularly curious and interesting.  In a particular part of the garden a curtain was drawn up, and by means of some mechanism of extraordinary ingenuity, the eye and the ear are so completely deceived, that it is not easy to persuade one’s self it is a deception, and that one does not actually see and hear a natural waterfall from a high rock.  As everyone was flocking to this scene in crowds, there arose all at once a loud cry of “Take care of your pockets.”  This informed us, but too clearly, that there were some pickpockets among the crowd, who had already made some fortunate strokes.

The rotunda, a magnificent circular building in the garden, particularly engaged my attention.  By means of beautiful chandeliers, and large mirrors, it was illuminated in the most superb manner; and everywhere decorated with delightful paintings, and statues, in the contemplation of which you may spend several hours very agreeably, when you are tired of the crowd and the bustle, in the walks of the garden.

Among the paintings one represents the surrender of a besieged city.  If you look at this painting with attention, for any length of time, it affects you so much that you even shed tears.  The expression of the greatest distress, even bordering on despair, on the part of the besieged, the fearful expectation of the uncertain issue, and what the victor will determine concerning those unfortunate people, may all be read so plainly, and so naturally in the countenances of the inhabitants, who are imploring for mercy, from the hoary head to the suckling whom his mother holds up, that you quite forget yourself, and in the end scarcely believe it to be a painting before you.

You also here find the busts of the best English authors, placed all round on the sides.  Thus a Briton again meets with his Shakespeare, Locke, Milton, and Dryden in the public places of his amusements; and there also reveres their memory.  Even the common people thus become familiar with the names of those who have done honour to their nation; and are taught to mention them with veneration.  For this rotunda is also an orchestra in which the music is performed in rainy weather.  But enough of Vauxhall!"






27 October 2014

What Do the National Football League and the Medicis Have In Common?

It goes a lot deeper than bling and big houses. If you were to say “trophy wives,” you’d be warm, but the Medici women were prizes themselves, at least as wealthy and glamorous in their own right as any starlet or supermodel.

The rather sordid and sinister answer is: domestic violence.

During the course of my research for INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, when I came to the chapter on the 16th century unions of the stunning heiress, Isabella Romola de Medici to Paolo Giordano Orsini, the scion of a prestigious Roman family; and that of Isabella’s incredibly warped younger brother Pietro de Medici to their beautiful and spirited cousin Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, little did I realize how relevant their stories would become to current events.

To me, the horrific events of these two Medici marriages were shocking. I have written about countless royal unions, both connubial and extramarital. Because most royal marriages were arranged, and therefore not love matches, it’s no wonder that they failed to some extent—that there was acrimony, or adultery. But murder? And not the Henry VIII-trumped-up-charges-of-high-treason sort. But the kind of spousal assault designed to look like an accident where the husband then weeps crocodile tears. And gets away with it.

Fast-forward to the O.J. Simpson trial in 1996. Or only recently, when Ray Rice seemed to think it was ok to sock his then-fiancée-now-wife (who therefore can’t testify against him) in an elevator. Rice was steamed that a gossip blog released the hotel’s security camera footage. Because otherwise he would have gotten away with attacking his woman. The NFL was prepared to put their heads in the sand over the entire incident until the commissioner was compelled to go to the videotape.

We don’t have actual royalty in America. Those who are doomed to remember history will recall that we fought a war to NOT have a king. But we still love the idea of royalty, so we anoint football players (or other pro-ballers). Or pop/rock/hip-hop, etc., stars. Or Hollywood icons. Queen Bey. Prince. The money they earn from their talent on the gridiron or catwalk or soundstage buys untold riches, glitter, and power. And more often than not, a get-out-of-jail-free card as well, just like the Medici men of the Italian Renaissance, who whored and dueled and murdered with impunity, although their wives were hardly permitted to live by those same social codes.

Isabella Romola de Medici was a Daddy’s girl, protected during his lifetime by her father, the powerful Cosimo, Duke of Florence. But after Cosimo died in April 1574, Isabella’s oldest brother Francesco became Duke; and he had no use for his flamboyant sibling. Not only did he refuse to aid her when she complained of her husband’s mistreatment, he abetted Paolo in covering up the circumstances of her death. Francesco would do the same when his brother Pietro strangled their cousin Eleonora with a dog leash. The girl was a flirt, they concurred. She deserved it. Instead of Pietro being punished, Eleonora’s name and reputation were smeared and the family honor was considered tarnished by her behavior.

The Ravens’ Ray Rice is not the only NFL player in recent memory to physically abuse his partner. In 2012, K.C. Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, then committed suicide in the stadium parking lot, in front of his coach. If only he’d started with himself, instead. In June of 2013, Pacman Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals was arrested on assault charges for punching a woman outside a nightclub. In the summer of 2012, Chad Johnson of the Miami Dolphins was charged with head-butting his newlywed wife outside their home. He was released on bond a day or so after his arrest, but the team cut him within 24 hours of his release. That same summer, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his mother. Evidently, during a family visit, Bryant’s mother had become upset at him and asked him to leave, whereupon he allegedly assaulted her.

The power and privilege conferred upon these princes, whether by birth, marriage, or their ability to get the ball into the end zone has all too often given them a pass when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. Months ago, when I wrote my chapter on the two Medici marriages, I thought I’d encountered a “one-off.” But recent headlines tell another story. Whether the perpetrators wear the red, white, and green of the Medici, or the colors of an NFL franchise, their behavior is not much different. Title or not, these men feel entitled. And is it because we, as a society, have conferred the mantle of royalty upon them, that they somehow believe themselves above the law—and their women beneath contempt?


As “Linda Richman” used to say on SNL’s “Coffee Talk”—discuss!

20 October 2014

A Sunday Escape into the Past at the Pelican Inn

A few weekends ago, I was looking for something fun to do with my daughter Mélanie that wouldn’t involve crossing one of the Bay Area’s many bridges  would be relatively mellow while still giving Mélanie  an adventure, and would ideally also provide me with writing inspiration. It seemed a perfect  day for a visit to the Pelican Innhttp://www.pelicaninn.com/. The Pelican Inn, tucked away on the road to Muir Woods on the northern California coast is a reproduction of a 16th century inn. Francis Drake and his crew landed on the coast not far away, and the inn takes it's name from Drake's ship, which was originally called the Pelican before being renamed the Golden Hinde.

I told Mélanie we were going to visit a castle. And if not quite strictly speaking a castle, the white-washed, slate roofed inn certainly conjurs up an era of castles. Mélanie and I enjoyed the bountiful brunch buffet on the patio (complete with delicious housemade scones that were fabulous with Stilton and marmalade) while I made notes for a scene in my WIP set in a coaching inn that I realized I could model on the Pelican Inn. The bar shows what a bar was like in a British inn or tavern - not a long counter but a a small window at which barkeep dispenses pints just as the Pelican Inn’s bartenders do. The dining room has a huge brick fireplace, candle sconces, and wood paneling. The white washed walls, open beams, low plaster ceiling, slightly uneven floors, and the sort of rambling quality one expects of an old inn all help transport one in time.

After brunch Mélanie took my Guinness and her mug of milk outside to the garden where I soaked up more atmosphere and she looked for butterflies among the flowerbeds.

I held her up so she could peek through one of the casements and showed her how thick the window ledge was. It was a lovely afternoon, an escape to another time and place, and priceless inspiration.

What places transport you to another time? Writers, do you have favorite settings near to home that evoke settings in your books?

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15 October 2014

Welcome back, Erica Monroe!



Thank you so much for having me again at History Hoydens! It’s such a joy to be here. Today I’d like to tell you a little about the setting of my latest novel in my historical romantic suspense Rookery Rogues series, Secrets in Scarlet. Now, a rookery is an old term for the poorer neighborhoods in London (basically the slums).

While the first book in the series (A Dangerous Invitation) largely took place in the Ratcliffe rookery down by Wapping and the London Docks, Secrets in Scarlet is contained to the Spitalfields rookery in East London. Spitalfields borders up against the surrounding rookeries of Bishopgate and Whitechapel.

Spitalfields wasn’t always a rookery though—once it was a busy community teeming with prosperity. The area was home to many Huguenot weavers, who when they emigrated from France they brought with them the secrets of the silk weaving in Lyons. The entire family would help weave on draw looms or hand looms.

Everyone in Britain wanted silk woven by these ex-French weavers. Skilled weavers were certainly not a dime a dozen, and though the process was incredibly time-consuming, they were able to make a better living than they would in many of the other occupations available to the lower class.

But during the 1820’s, all that changed. Britain revoked the Spitalfields Act, and now people could trade freely with France, so the Spitalfields weavers were no longer the ones producing this silk. Coupled with the new machinery that dramatically reduced production times—and the need for so many weavers—the small town descended into hardship. As Charles Dickens states in his 1851 “Spitalfields” article for the Household Worlds journal, “From fourteen to seventeen thousand looms are contained in from eleven to twelve thousand houses – although at the time at which we write, not more than nine to ten thousand are at work.” Most of the production moved to factories in Manchester or Lancashire that utilized steam power. In my upcoming novella Beauty and the Rake, my heroine, Abigail has weaved—either in a factory or in her own home—since she was a child, and it’s all she knows.

In Secrets in Scarlet, I created a factory that exists on White Lion Street. This factory has somewhat factual basis, because it was marked on a map I found of the Spitalfields/Whitechapel areas during the Ripper slayings (so as to whether or not there was a factory actually on this site in 1832, your guess is as good as mine, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence). My textile factory solely does the weaving of the raw silk, so no steam power is needed. My heroine, Poppy O’Reilly, goes to work as a weaver in this factory not only to pay rent, etc, but so that she can save up enough money for her daughter to attend a finishing school someday.

The new attachment made by Joseph Marie Jacquard hastened the downfall of these skilled weavers. I show this loom in Secrets in Scarlet, as my heroine Poppy works in a textile factory devoted to the weaving of silk. Though it’s often referred to as a “Jacquard loom,” it’s actually an attachment that can be used with many mechanical looms. It could be operated by one person, and because of its punch card system, suddenly it was possible to work complex patterns into the silk without having to reset the loom each time. You’ll see in the next picture that a portrait of Jean Marie Jacquard was actually woven on his jacquard loom! (I find this terribly clever and punny.) Modifications of this loom are still in use today in many clothing factories. In fact, because of its punch card system, the jacquard attachment is cited as one of the first steps toward modern computing.

For Poppy, the Jacquard loom makes her feel independent and in control. She’s in London under an assumed name, so that people won’t find out she’s really not a war widow—and that her daughter isn’t legitimate. It’s exhausting, excruciating work in the factory, from sun up to sun down, but it allows her to at least be able to make an honest living. Surrounded by immigrants like herself (she came to England from County Cork as a child), she feels at home. I loved being able to draw these parallels between residents struggling to embrace the changes forced upon them, to Poppy and her fight against society’s harmful views of her life.

Today, Spitalfields still boasts a charming community. One of my favorite blogs for research during writing Secrets in Scarlet was Spitalfields Life (http://spitalfieldslife.com). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Book blurb:
When a girl is murdered at a factory in one of London’s rookeries, Sergeant Thaddeus Knight of the Metropolitan Police comes in to investigate. But it’s not just the factory owners that Thaddeus wants information on–the devilishly intriguing Poppy O’Reilly is a puzzle he’d like nothing more than to solve.

Protecting her young daughter is the most important thing to Poppy, and Thaddeus threatens the false identity she’s carefully constructed. The last thing she should do is allow Thaddeus close to her family, yet she can’t stay away from him. With danger around the corner, will the secrets of a scarlet woman lead to their undoing?

Buy Links if you allow them:
All Romance E-Books: http://bit.ly/1sSzjyB

Author Bio:
Erica Monroe is a USA Today Bestselling Author of emotional, suspenseful romance. Her debut novel, A Dangerous Invitation, was nominated in the published historical category for the prestigious 2014 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Romantic Suspense. When not writing, she is a chronic TV watcher, sci-fi junkie, lover of pit bulls, and shoe fashionista. She lives in the suburbs of North Carolina with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.





22 September 2014

Anne Boleyn, Donizetti, and Fact & Fiction


Most historical fiction takes some liberties with the historical record, from the minor to the sweeping. I try to be accurate but inevitably in developing plots that feature real and fictional characters and combine real and historical fictional events, one is putting real historical figures in situations that are not part of the historical record and filling in the blanks that aren’t known. In Vienna Waltz, I imagined what might have happened behind closed doors between Tsarina Elisabeth and her former lover Adam Czartoryski. They may well have actually resumed their affair, as they do in my novel. They certainly weren’t embroiled in the investigation into the murder of my fictional Princess Tatiana Kirsanova, as they also are in the book.

I recently wrote a blog for the Merola Opera Program about the historical reality (and unreality) behind Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Anna Bolena. It’s a history post as much as an opera post, so I thought it would be fun to rework it here, with a bit more emphasis on m perspective as an historical novelist. Anna Bolena, which premiered in 1830 tells the story of Anne Boleyn. Every historical novelist has to decide at what point in the historical tapestry of events to begin the story. The opera’s libretto by Felice Romani, based on Ippolito Pindemonte’s Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli’s Anna Bolena, begins with Enrico (Henry) and Anna already married and glosses over Henry’s desperation for a male heir which led to him divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon (not to mention breaking away from the Catholic Church) and the political machinations of Anne’s family which also played a role in throwing the two of them together.

When the opera opens, Enrico’s interest has already turned to Giovanna (Jane) Seymour, one of Anna’s ladies-in-waiting in the opera, as she was in real life. Anne’s former betrothed was named Henry (Harry) Percy, not Ricardo (Richard) Percy as in the opera. The change was perhaps to avoid confusion with King Henry. The tendency of a name to be used over and over in an historical era can cause all sorts of problems for the historical novelist. I’ve never actually changed a name, but I have used nicknames to help differentiate.

In real life, Percy and Anne wanted to marry and may have had a pre-contract. In the opera Percy claims they did, saying he and Anna were married in the sight of God. In the opera, Enrico pushes Anna and Percy together and Anna’s downfall comes about when she and Percy are caught in a seemingly compromising situation. In reality, though Henry or at least his agents may well have manipulated the accusations of infidelity against Anne to bring about her downfall, Percy was actually not one of the men with whom she was accused of adultery.

Musician Mark Smeaton was accused of adultery with Anne, as in the opera, and falsely confessed to the crime. In the opera he does so in the mistaken belief it will save Anna’s life. In reality, Smeaton probably confessed under torture. He was executed in real life, as he is in the opera. Anne was also accused of infidelity with her brother George, Lord Rochefort, as she is in the opera. In the opera. Rochefort and Percy are pardoned but choose to die with Anna. In reality, Rochefort was executed. Percy in fact, served on the jury at Anne’s trial, though he is said to have collapsed at the guilty verdict or perhaps before the vote was taken.

The opera ends with Anna going mad and going to her execution as Henry VIII and Giovanna Seymour are married. Henry and Jane Seymour’s marriage actually took place 11 days after Anne was beheaded, and the historical Anne was in fact remarkably stoic through out her trial and execution. Of all the changes, this one probably bothers me the most, because to me it weakens the strength the historical Anne displayed through crisis and tragedy. As an historical novelist, I will change a date here and here and put historical figures in fictional situations, but I try to stay true to the spirit of the actual person. I embroiled Talleyrand in fictional intrigues in Vienna Waltz, but I thought carefully about how far I thought it might go given his many real life intrigues.

How much does historical accuracy matter to you? What are some changes in historical fiction that you find particularly memorable for good or ill? Writers, how do you approach fictionalizing historical events?



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