Mary and the Captain is now available in paperback!

Good news! Mary and the Captain is now available in paperback on Amazon.

You can also find Mary and the Captain in print at BarnesandNoble.com beginning next week. I’ll post an update here as soon as I have an exact date.

And if you prefer to read Mary and the Captain on your favorite device, you can download it from most major e-book retailers, like Inktera, iTunes, Barnes and Noble Nook, ScribdSmashwords, and Kobo. I hope you enjoy the book!

Any questions? Feel free to leave a reply below. I love to hear from readers and always respond as soon as I can, so let me know your thoughts.

 

Sir Walter Elliot and Me

I’ve been fascinated by English nobility for as long as I can remember. And like most writers who pen stories set in the era of Regency England, I’ve made a study of the peerage with its ranks and titles, hierarchies and presidencies.

That explains why—whenever I read the opening paragraphs of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—I feel a strong connection with Sir Walter Elliot and his preoccupation with his own book about the baronetage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

There are plenty of instances in Persuasion where Austen gives readers reasons to dislike Sir Walter Elliot for his arrogance, or holds him up to ridicule for his vanity; but I have to agree with Sir Walter on one thing: I love a good book about the peerage.

Several years ago, I found my own copy of a book like Sir Walter’s Baronetage, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

In a used book store in southern California I found a battered 1806 edition of Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland. Here’s the title page:

It’s a thick book, weighing in at over 400 pages of very tiny type; but it contains everything you’d ever want to know about the hereditary peers of Great Britain and Ireland in the early Nineteenth Century.

The book names each peer by rank, his wife (if married), his children (detailing whether they’re alive or deceased), and the name of the peer’s heir.

It even includes illustrations of the major peers’ coats of arms, and their mottoes. For example, the Marquis of Downshire’s motto is:

“Either attempt not, or accomplish.”

That sounds a lot like Yoda’s “Do or do not; there is no try,” doesn’t it? Here’s a page showing some of the coats of arms for English Marquisses:

And like Sir Walter Elliot, I enjoy browsing through the pages of the book whenever I have an idle moment.

In my novel Mary and the Captain, my copy of Debrett’s played a pivotal role in the story. Mary Bennet used the entries in Debrett’s to figure out the identity of a boy apprentice she and Captain Robert Bingley (Caroline and Charles’ brother) rescue from a cruel taskmaster.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s nothing to Debrett’s but a long list of peers, their ancestors, and heirs.

My 1806 edition includes a handy explanation of heraldic terms. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours poring over these pages with a magnifying glass trying to reason out for myself what each symbol meant on a given coat of arms.

Every little detail on a coat of arms means something. For someone like me who enjoys solving puzzles, interpreting the arms shown in the book has been a fun challenge using the illustrations of terms.

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Like Sir Walter, my Debrett’s has given me “occupation for an idle hour” and I’m still discovering fascinating new bits of information in its pages; like this entry for Elizabeth Rawdon, Baroness Hungerford:

What?!? I was pretty startled to see a woman listed among the barons, since all my research showed noble titles were passed from male to male in each generation. But with Lady Hungerford’s entry, I charged off on a new flurry of research to figure out how it was possible that a woman inherited a baronetcy.

I’m still working my way through the book, and with each reading I seem to discover new revelations that fascinate me. That’s why I can whole-heartedly agree with Sir Walter: poring over the pages of a book about the peerage never fails to hold my interest.

 

 

My Inspiration for Mary and the Captain

Mary and the Captain was so much fun to write! As part of my writing process I collected several images that helped inspire (directly and indirectly) different scenes in the story. I thought I’d share a few of those images with you.

We all know Mary Bennet loved to play the pianoforte and the image below made me think of Mary (although I believe Mary would have worn her hair in a much plainer style). Added inspiration: I love the intricate mullions that divide the panes of glass in the window behind Mary.

I found the following image on an old Rafael Tuck French postcard. Although I didn’t have a scene in the book where Mary played for a young child, I though this illustration was very sweet.

In the book, ten-year-old boy Daniel Westover receives a gift of new toys from Kitty Bennet. This 1774 painting by Jean Simeon Chardin shows a boy about the same age as Daniel Westover, playing with a small top, similar to the one Kitty would have given Daniel.

And this painting by Louis Monzies shows three men playing with bilbo-catchers, trying to get the ball in the cup.

When I wrote the scene where Caroline Bingley calls upon Mr. Penrose at the vicarage, I had in mind this lovely watercolor of Oakham Parsonage by John Hassell:

And here’s a second view by the same artist showing Oakham Church. Wouldn’t this be a lovely place to listen to one of Mr. Penrose’s sermons?

Now that I’ve shared these images with you, I wonder if they match the way you envisioned the same scenes in Mary and the Captain?

Haven’t read Mary and the Captain yet? You can read the first four chapters of Mary and the Captain; just click here!

 

Byron’s Bible

George Gordon, Lord Byron certainly had a reputation.

Lord Byron (National Portrait Gallery, London)

In fact, he had several reputations. Even today some people think of him as the noble, courageous, yet doomed hero he wrote about in his verses.

Others think of him as a scandalous cad who embarked on a series of inappropriate relationships, seduced his half-sister, cruelly disgraced his wife, and drove Caroline Lamb to madness.

Byron in Albanian Dress by Thomas Phillips

But he also had a reputation as a wit. His sense of humor ranged from cheeky to outrageous, and he delighted in catching people off guard. Here’s an example:

Byron’s publisher was a man named John Murray. In appreciation of their long-time association, Byron one day presented Murray with a beautifully bound Bible in which he had written a very flattering inscription to Murray. Murray prized the Bible and kept in on a table where anyone who entered his office could not help but see it and be impressed by it.

One day a visitor to Murray’s office was admiring the Bible and flipping through the pages, when he called Murray’s attention to John 18:40, which read “Now Barabbas was a robber.”

Byron had scratched through the word “robber” and substituted “publisher.”

An 1840 print of Lord Byron by Currier and Ives

The account I read didn’t describe how John Murray reacted to the discovery, but it did report that Murray stopped displaying Byron’s Bible in his office.

 

Take Two Pigeons and Call Me in the Morning

Inaccurate—and sometimes preposterous—news stories have been circulating since mankind first began stringing words together in a sentence. History shows that even reputable publications sometimes pick up questionable stories and run with them.

To illustrate the point, here’s a news item I found in a 1798 issue of Sporting Magazine about a revolutionary medical treatment:

We inserted in a former Number, an article respecting a child being recovered from convulsion fits, by applying the naked breast of a live pigeon to its stomach: the same experiment has been lately made on the child of a poor person at Clipstone, Northamptonshire, and with equal success. The infant had had several violent fits, and its life was despaired of. In one of these the breast of a pigeon was applied to the pit of the stomach, and in a few minutes the child revived. The same experiment was made several times, and with the same effect: the pigeon, however, did not appear to be convulsed, nor to have sustained any injury, and notwithstanding the loss of feathers, it is still alive, and pecks as well as usual.

This may read like nothing more than a bit of Regency-era quackery, but at least the story had a happy ending: both patient and pigeon survived.

The pigeon was not so lucky in the following account of a similar encounter, which I found in The Monthly Gazette of Health, Vol. IV for the Year 1819 by Richard Reece, M.D. of London:

Epilepsy.—An intelligent gentleman of Gloucester, informs us, that the parents of a young man residing at Fairford, who had been for four or five years subject to epileptic fits, applied (by the advice of a friend) a live pigeon to the pit of his stomach during an attack of the paroxysm. The fit terminated much sooner than usual, and the pigeon on being removed was observed to be stupid. On a return of the fit the same pigeon was re-applied to the pit of the stomach, and soon afterwards the patient recovered, and the pigeon exhibited some symptoms of being convulsed.

These two stories aren’t necessarily representative of the state of early nineteenth century medicine, but they do make an important point: In Regency-era England, physician-prescribed medical treatments (like blood-letting, laxative-induced purging, and applying leeches) often did more harm than good. It was natural, then, for people to search for alternatives, like folk remedies, to cure what ailed them.

After all, pigeons were plentiful; and with stories like these fueling people’s imaginations, desperate families (and a few untrained members in the medical profession) had nothing to lose by turning to pigeons to ease the symptoms of a loved one’s illness.

Medical anthropologist and author Kyra Kramer recently did a guest post about Regency medicine on Maria Grace’s blog, Random Bits of Fascination. It’s an interesting read with nary a mention of pigeons. I hope you check it out.

 

My Garage Sale Find

It’s true what they say about one man’s trash.

I should know. I’ve found a few treasures of my own while browsing through jumbles of used items other people have for sale. I never know what I’m going to find in a booth at my local swap meet or on a table of items at a neighborhood garage sale.

box-pimpernel-place-mats

Just last week I found a set of Pimpernel British Heritage place mats at a garage sale. Each cork-backed mat in the set of six measures about 8″ x 8-1/2″ in size; and though the original box is a little beat up, the place mats themselves are in great condition.

westminster-abbey

But I didn’t spend $2 of my hard-earned money to take them home and put hot plates on them; I bought them solely because of the images they depict of old London landmarks. And when I scanned each image and cropped off the red and gold borders on my digital copies, they were nice images, indeed.

westminster-abbey-cropped

Unfortunately, there’s nothing on the box to indicate where the original images came from.

st-pauls-cropped

Nor do they name an artist (although the box did assure me these mats would add “interest and elegance” to my table).

st-james-palace-cropped

So I turned to Google Image Search and found a couple of matches, but I couldn’t be certain how reliable the background info was that I found.

ludgate-hill-cropped

The above image of Ludgate Hill viewed from Fleet Street returned several matches, one of which indicated the original was by Jones & Co. from 1830.

Detail of the Ludgate Hill mat

Detail of the Ludgate Hill mat

Based on the style of dress of the people depicted in each scene, I’d agree the setting for each image is about 1830.

The other nice thing about these illustrations is the amount of detail they contain. Take the Ludgate Hill image, for instance. In the shadowed corner of the building on the far right of the illustration you can see the marker for Fleet Street.

And on the face of the four-story white building you can just make out the name “Albion Fire and Life,” an insurance company founded in 1805.

piccadilly-cropped

The illustration of the intersection of Piccadilly and Coventry has similar details, from the business names on the buildings to the style of coach and dress at the time:

piccadilly-detail

The other thing I like is the scale each image provides, showing the monumental size of the buildings and landmarks.

horse-guards-cropped

So these place mats, once planned for a purely utilitarian purpose, will now be added to my collection of items related to the Regency era.  The next time I’m writing about the era and find myself stumped describing a London landmark, I’ll have these images to refer to. All in all, I think this set is one of my better $2 investments.

 

 

Hold on to Your Hats! It’s a Helter Skelter

I love to ride roller coasters. The hair-raising speed, the sudden drops you feel in the pit of your stomach, the hair-pin turns—they all combine to make for one thrilling ride.

If roller coasters are a little too intense for your taste, you might want to give a Helter Skelter a try.

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

Helter Skelters are slides built around a central structure. Instead of modern mechanical gears and pulley systems, they rely on gravity to give riders a smooth, twisting-turning trip to the ground. Inside their central structure is a staircase; riders climb the stairs to their highest point where they emerge from the structure at the top of the slide; then they sit down on a mat, or take a seat on a sled, and ride the slide to the ground.

Helter Skelters aren’t exclusive to America. The photograph below, found at I Love the British Royals, shows the future King George VI riding a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition in London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

Nor are Helter Skelters a 20th century invention. In fact, there are records of Helter Skelters as far back as the Regency era.

The image below from 1817 shows a man with two masked revelers at the base of a Helter Skelter slide, with twin tower structures in the background.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

And the following 1816 image depicts two ladies and a gentleman watching riders descend a Helter Skelter.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

In this undated image, one man collects his wife and daughter as a second man collects his wife after they’ve gone down a Helter Skelter:

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide. The riders used wheeled chairs to descend the slide.

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide.

Some Helter Skelters were rather elaborate. The 1816 image below shows a Helter Skelter with dual slides that take deep turns—certain to thrill the era’s most adventurous riders. And with a starting point four stories high, riders probably reached some impressive speeds on their way down.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816. The image shows riders descending on wheeled sleds that follow a track.

Given my love for roller coasters named Goliath and Intimidator, I feel a special kinship with the Regency era ladies and gentlemen who dared to take a turn on a Helter Skelter. It looks like the kind of fun I like!

And the Chutzpah Award Goes to …

In my collection of old books and documents I have several copies of The Sporting Magazine from the years 1797 and 1798. The Sporting Magazine was a monthly publication for gentlemen. Most of the articles chronicled racing events and reports on stag and fox hunting; but they also contain some excellent feature articles, too.

The features cover diverse topics. I’ve read articles on the history of boxing, the proper equipment for anglers, some poetry, and even reviews of new plays being performed at London theaters at the time.

But my favorite elements of the magazine are the little news items that the editors fit in between the larger articles. Here’s a sample:

From the January 1798 edition of The Sporting Magazine

From the January 1798 edition of The Sporting Magazine

The motto “Honi foit qui mal y pense” is the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and translates as “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”

Princess Elizabeth (center) with her sisters Princess Augusta Sophia (left) and Charlotte Augusta Matilda, Princess Royal (seated). by Arthur N. Sanders, published by Henry Graves, after Thomas Gainsborough (1784) NPG D15000 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Princess Elizabeth (center) with her sisters Princess Augusta Sophia (left) and Charlotte Augusta Matilda, Princess Royal (seated); by Arthur N. Sanders, published by Henry Graves, after Thomas Gainsborough (1784)
NPG D15000
© National Portrait Gallery, London

This story really tickled me—first because it’s just plain funny; and, second, in an era of strict etiquette and court manners, Princess Elizabeth sounds like she would have been a very interesting young woman to know.

A Visit from Book Santa

I woke up on Christmas morning to find that Book Santa had visited my house!

Book Santa's Offering

I’ve had visits from Book Santa in the past, so I knew to expect two things:

  1. His reading tastes are varied; he enjoys giving fiction titles just as much as non-fiction titles
  2. His reading tastes are a lot like my own (a happy co-ink-ee-dink, right?)

So you can imagine how excited I was to unwrap these titles on Christmas morning:

Jane Austen's WorthingJane Austen’s Worthing by Antony Edmonds.

I thought I owned just about every Jane Austen-related book there was until Book Santa dropped this one under my Christmas tree. It’s an account of the seaside resort town that inspired Austen’s Sanditon, one of my favorite (if unfinished) Austen novels.

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King John by Marc MorrisKing John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England by Marc Morris

I have a very personal interest in learning all I can about King John of England; through my Cornell ancestors I’m a direct descendant of that notorious king who was ultimately forced to sign the Magna Carta. Every time I open the pages of a new book about King John, I hope to read about some redeeming quality in the man (he is family, after all). Could this be the book that finally shows King John to have some humanity? Here’s hoping …

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Organize Your GenealogyOrganize Your Genealogy by Drew Smith

After years of gathering family histories, photographs, and documents, I have paper coming out of my ears. Book Santa must have known I needed a book like this to help me safely and sensibly share and store each precious item I’ve collected. Check in with me in a couple of months to see if I’ve put this book’s suggestions to good use.

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Calico Spy by Margaret BrownelyCalico Spy by Margaret Brownley

Everybody knows Book Santa has a great sense of humor, which is why he knew I’d enjoy Calico Spy. It’s book three in Ms. Brownley’s Undercover Ladies series of old west mysteries featuring female detectives. Ever have a hankerin’ for a good laugh, memorable characters, and an intriguing who-done-it mystery? Yup, me, too. I think I just talked myself into making this the first of my new books to read.

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The Successful Author MindsetThe Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn

I’ve been a Joanna Penn fan for years. I read her fiction, follow her blog, listen to her podcasts, and look to her for inspiration when I need an indie-author-pick-me-up. She never fails to deliver.  I rather suspect Book Santa gave me this Joanna Penn offering because he knows I could do a better job of managing my writing career (and he’d be right!). But, God bless him, Book Santa never judges; he just gives the right book at the right time to give us all the kick in the pants we need.  And speaking of time, I’m currently in the process of setting my writing goals for 2017; and I suspect The Successful Author Mindset will be a big help in the process.

So there you have it … Book Santa’s Christmas delivery to my house was generous and well-planned, and his selections showed his usual flair for variety.

I hope Book Santa visited your house, too. What did he bring you?