Traveling on Silver Penny

By Ella Quinn

Ella Quinn 1Living on a sailboat was our retirement dream. And for the past three years my husband and I have lived on the sailing boat Silver Penny. We’ve traveled a lot. In many ways sailing today is like it was during the Regency, 200 years ago. The sailing routes we take having changed in hundreds of years.

Twice every year, we made off-shore passages either from the US, generally starting in Hampton, Virginia with the Salty Dawg Rally to the British Virgin Islands. Passages from north to south always (if one is smart) take place after November 1st until early winter. Then we made the passage back north again in April or May. Those trips usually lasted about eight days.

Ella-4-Pantry 2 March 15

Last year we decided to cross the Atlantic. The preparations took several months and a lot of research. Again, we decided to go with a rally. For those of you who are envisioning a group of boats sailing together, banish it from your minds. We may all start out together but within a day or two, other than the twice daily radio check-ins, you’re out there pretty much by yourself. Transatlantic crossings from west to east always take place between the middle of May to the middle of June. Why? That’s when the fewest people die. Before the middle of May one is still subject to storms out of the north. After the middle of June, hurricane season begins.

Provisioning (planning food and meals for everyone onboard for a month) was one of the most challenging parts of preparations. I had to make sure we had nutritious meals and snacks that weren’t boring. There is no running to the store in the middle of the ocean.Ella Quinn 2-Hampton to STT 2

Believe it or not, the actual passage is pretty unexciting, which is exactly what you want. Although, there are always those days when the winds kick up, and your sails are reefed (reducing the amount of sail you have up) or your weather router tells you to get south fast because there is a low coming. Some days you have very little wind at all. That’s the perfect time to clean the boat, enjoy the sun, and cook something more interesting.

Ella-5-Rough Seas 2

Depending on the boat and winds, the crossing will generally take between 10-16 days. We made it in fourteen. Other boats who decided to brave the 45 knot winds made in ten. The fun part was reaching the Azores and meeting up with the boats already there and greeting the incoming boats.

Ella -3-_HamptontoSTT4

Do you plan on traveling when you retire?

Everyone who comments has a chance to win an one of my books.



On Taking A Writing Hiatus

 by Mairi Norris

Authors love to write.

One might think this goes without saying, and one would be correct. We write because we love it, because we need to write. From the romantic viewpoint, our souls starve without indulging in the creativity of transcribing the stories in our hearts onto the printed or digital page. On the practical side, it’s also drummed into us that the more books we write (and the faster), the better.

Why then would an author take a five month break from the craft they love so much? There are many reasons, but I took mine simply because I needed it and because my next book is a low-fantasy medieval romance requiring months of world-building. During that time, while my ‘creative juices’ quietly worked their way through everything from names and personalities for the characters to the new world’s science, technology, foods, morals, social structure, etc., my husband and I took some ‘time off’ and I worked to finish a major personal project.

 While we could not at this time take a true ‘vacation’, we did visit some nearby places we’d not been to before. These included Bacon’s Castle, a 17th c. plantation house associated with the rebellion of the patriot Nathanial Bacon, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond. These gardens are a place of utter magic. The Victorian style, domed glass conservatory enchanted me, especially the ‘butterfly house’ section. We bought lifetime membership and plan to make seasonal visits whenever possible.



The major project I worked on was part of my hobby, dollhouse miniatures, and encompassed the creation of a large antique mall in 1/12 scale [1”=1’] I’ve named Bygone Elegance. I’ve now completed most of the construction and interior decorating of the store. Filling it with miniature ‘antiques’ comes next – but not until after I finish my next book.


Yes, the hiatus from writing was needful and refreshed mind, soul, and spirit. Now I am excited and ‘champing at the bit’ to return to writing and the enjoyment of creating a new medieval fantasy world – but for those of you who love ‘real world’ medieval, don’t worry. The world I’m building won’t be all that different from our real world in the 16th century. If all goes well, the book will be ready for a Christmas release.

 So, if your favorite writer drops off the scene for a while, consider he or she might be indulging in a  rest from creating. Eventually, the need comes to all of us, but it usually results in even better stories for our readers.








Step Back in Time: Costumes and Biltmore Estate

by Katherine Bone

biltmore estateIn April of this year, I had the opportunity to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, built between 1889 and 1895. George Washington Vanderbilt II brought his wife Edith to the 12,000 square foot palatial luxurious mansion-like castle, situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, shortly after their marriage, and it is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants today. The sprawling grounds cover 8,000 acres, sure to rival any working European estate. Built in the Châteauesque style, the Biltmore is one of the most sought after romantic getaways in the southern US. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and the home’s décor is arranged the way it would have been in George and Edith Vanderbilt’s day.

The particular day I visited Vanderbilt’s architectural masterpiece, I had the opportunity to experience the Historical Costume Exhibit. The exhibit consisted of clothes from historical films like Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, Sleepy Hollow, The

kathy bone-Mr. Darcy's and Elizabeth's costumes in Pride & Prejudice

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s outfits from                Pride and Prejudice                          


Golden Bowl, The House of Mirth, The Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, Finding Neverland, Twelfth Night, Far from the Madding Crowd, and Sherlock Holmes, a Game of Shadows. I wasn’t disappointed. Being able to see the costumes up close filled me with a sense of wonder and awe. The detailed stitching made me appreciate the hours of artistry that went into creating each of the garments.

Another reason for visiting the Biltmore Estate was to stroll through its formal and informal gardens. The American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the lush and large gardens that transport visitors to Tuscany. On the grounds, people can relax beneath old and twisted wisteria vines or appraise 250 varieties of roses planted in symmetrical patterns. If you’re a hiker, you can trek through 2.5 miles of lush forests, open meadows, and manicured gardens around the manse.  

kathy bone--Mia Wasikowska's costume from Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska’s gown from Jane Eyre


If you need sustenance, there are restaurants too. Need a shot of something more bracing? How about sampling vintage wines at the Biltmore Winery while observing spectacular autumn foliage? I got to taste up to ten wines, some new to me and discovered I love a red wine called Malbec.

It’s safe to say anyone who goes to the Biltmore Estate will find something to do and enjoy there. The Historical Costume Exhibit made my trip exceptional. And the icing on the cake was I got to experience it with several other historical romance authors too. We all felt as if we’d stepped back in time to witness how our characters might have lived when life was simpler and attention was paid to detail.


Kathy bone--The Biltmore Winery

from left: Samantha Kane, Katherine Bone, Ava Stone, Julie Johnstone


For more information or to arrange your romantic tour of the Biltmore Estate, click here.

If you’d like to see more photographs of the costumes I saw at the Biltmore Estate, you can find them on my Instagram page here.

Here are a few more costumes.

kathy bone--Emma Thompson's costume in Sense & Sensibility

Emma Thompson’s gown from                  Sense and Sensibility                          

kathy bone--Nicole Kidman's costume from The Portrait of a Lady

Nicole Kidman’s gown from                  The Portrait of a Lady              

kathy bone--Johnny Depp's costume in Sleepy Hollow

Johnny Depp’s costumes from                    Sleepy Hollow                 


The Lakes District,                                                                                                                                            Making Lemons Out of Lemonade

By Donna Hatch                                                                                                                        

donna h.-lakes districe

Like the millions of visitors who visited it before me, the Lakes District instilled in me a sense of wonder and awe. The beauty of the area is balanced by a yesteryear charm, including unspoiled vistas, the multitude of lakes, meres, and waters, delightful names such as Windermere, Ambleside, and Loweswater, and the preservation of history.

Donna H. -lakes dist cottage with waterwheel (1)

There is something magical about this area. The colors are more vivid, the light more pure, the landscape more natural and more passionate than any I’ve ever visited. I could point my camera in any old direction with zero to no set up and capture a print-worthy image. Even the photos of me in the area turned out well, and that’s saying something!

Donna H. =Lakes Dis. Donna by pass

One of the many fascinating aspects of the area was the use of slate stones to build fences, barns, bridges, businesses, and pretty much any type of structure. When the early settlers found farming difficult due to the multitude of stones in their fields, they removed the offending elements, and like any enterprising settler skilled at making lemons out of lemonade, put these rocks to good use in constructing all their buildings. Slate rock was readily available, study, and durable—perfect for building material.

Donna H. -Lakes Dist. fence

Today, the skill used to build these stone structures is in danger of becoming a lost art. They use a technique called dry stone. Builders literally use dry stones, with no mortar or cement to glue them together. Like a master puzzle solver, the specialist meticulously choses each rock for its shape and size, and fits them together to create a strong structure that holds up to animals, weather, and even time itself. 

A technique called stone cladding, is placing a thinner layer of stone to the outside of buildings. Unlike shingles, siding or stucco, stones never need painting and seldom need repairs or replacing. Slate rock structures are just one of the many unique and memorable reasons I fell in love with the Lakes District of England


Donna H==Lakes Dist. church



Lamenting the Lack of Bookstores

by Barbara Bettis

Speaking of books. And where to get them. bookstore

I have a wonderful report (in theory).

This week when I was going through the grocery store checkout and chatting with the clerk, I discovered she was a senior at the local university, majoring in English.

She wants to open a bookstore when she graduates.

I nearly wept on her shoulder. I didn’t though, but I did thank her and encourage her in her dream. Luckily it was a slow day in the supermarket, so we were able to talk for a few minutes. She was cognizant of the difficulty of such an effort, but she said she hoped to open a small place to begin with, something that had space for people to gather, read, hold meetings, have coffee or tea.

She said she wanted it to be a spot for booklovers to congregate, and she would offer all kinds of books for purchase.  

This, in my opinion, is a perfect kind of bookstore, one that encourages people who love to read to gather in the midst of books, to spend time alone with a cup of coffee and their favorite author, or to meet with coffee shop get togethers friends to talk over—whatever they like.

 It can even be a spot where other events are conducted. Our Borders used to host evenings of music, as well.

Our city is the third largest in the state, population-wise. Yet our Hastings left years ago and our Borders, of course, went out when the company folded. (I still miss our Borders. It was so very author friendly as well as reader friendly.) We have a scarce handful of used book stores, one store that sells both used and some new, and the Barnes and Noble, which seems to offer more ‘other things’ as the years go by.

Yes, the burgeoning of e-publishing and the shrinking market for hard-copy books affect booksellers and book buyers, as does the rising cost of books. Yet this young woman said she was willing to take the risk in order to bring back the warmth and energy of a bookstoTheLadyoftheForest_w11020_750re.

I gave her my card and told her to let me know when it happened because I knew of several authors who would immediately patronize the place. (We’ll actually haunt it, but I didn’t want to scare her off.)

Let’s hope she manages to realize her dream.

What’s the reality of bookstores where you live?



Books: Standing the Test of Time

Shadow of the MoonShadow of the Moon

Review by Jenna Jaxon

Recently, I began re-reading M. M. Kaye’s romance Shadow of the Moon (probably about the 8th time I’ve read it—my first copy fell apart) and while the love story is as wonderful as it ever was, and the descriptions of India are truly magnificent—you can believe you are there—the writing style, jumps out at me as having a lot of things I’ve been taught not to do. How does one judge a work that was written in a different time, with different stylistic expectations?

Shadow of the Moon, set in England and India in the years leading up to the India Mutiny of 1857, is the story of young Winter de Ballesteros, born of an English woman and a Spaniard who met and fell in love in India. Winter is orphaned almost from infancy and raised in a wealthy Indian household. At age six, she is sent back to her relatives in England, where she lives, unappreciated, until she returns to India to marry a distant relative, a Commissioner of the Indian state of Lunjore, she met once and who she has romanticized into a shining knight, able to return her to the wonderful life she remembered there. The Commissioner’s handsome aide, Alex Randall, reluctantly escorts Winter to India, hoping his charge will have the sense to break the engagement when she discovers the truth about her betrothed.

Winter’s dream shatters when she realizes—too late—her knight in shining armor is an older, drunken, debauched man who is only after her wealth. Now trapped in a loveless marriage in the midst of a foreign country on the brink of a violent explosion, Winter works together with Alex to try to prevent the crisis and deny their feelings for one another. In the aftermath of the brutal mutiny, more dangers threaten Alex and Winter and their future happiness.


The Residence at Lucknow after the India Mutiny


I have loved this book, as well as Kaye’s masterpiece The Far Pavillions, since I first read them, though I did wonder how the writing would hold up now that I read as a writer moreso than a reader. Written in 1956, Shadow of Moon includes several things no longer acceptable in the romance genre: head-hopping, a third person narrator, and pages of backstory on the politics and history of 18th and 19th century India. The head-hopping, changing point of view from character to character is constant throughout the book, though after a while it no longer bothered me. The use of a third person narrator helps both with the historical perspective and with the lack of deep POV from the hero and heroine. Again, it takes some getting used to, but as the book is 800 pages long, you come to embrace it along the way. The historical/political backstory, however, I fouOnlyAMistressWillDond myself skipping over in great chunks in favor of getting to the romance. I do not believe the reader’s enjoyment of the book is in any way compromised by doing this and if one finds such things fascinating, it is wonderful contextual reading.

I do recommend this book to lovers of historical romance. Both Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavillions have made me put a trip to India on my bucket list of things to do. I would love to see some of these storybook palaces, ride horseback on the plains, experience a colorful bazaar myself and in some tangible way relive these masterful stories first hand.

A Personal Roadmap to Research

beppie bio pixOur departure is bearing down on me! We leave tomorrow morning to spend almost a month in England, all because I was smart enough to marry an Englishman an incredible number of years ago, and so lived in London for ten years and since then have traveled back frequently to visit family and friends.

So this is another of those trips. Most of the time I intend to spend eating wonderful British bread and cheese while trying to explain to incredulous English friends what the hell is going on in Washington, but before we get down to that, I’m going to take a wonderful cab ride called Research through the Regency places in London.

I’ve been to most of them one time or another, but never with my Regency goggles on, so to speak. All of the streets, as far as I can tell, are still there. I’m working with my wonderful book The A to Z of Regency London, but since it shows London as it was, not as it is, I’m waiting to get to London to buy a spanking new London A to Z (which, should you ever be trying to buy one, is pronounced “A to Zed”) and the put the two together, and take one of those wonderful English cabs—no longer always black, more’s the pity—with a driver who knows London inside out and backwards, and figure out a sensible route between them, as I’m certain many if not all of them are now one-way streets.

Here’s my list:

Bond Street:

The obvious starting point. Bond Street is still a wonderful shopping experience, assuming your pockets are stuffed with 5 pound notes and higher. (There is no 1 pound note now: that’s a coin.)  The shops my Regency heroines knew are all almost certainly gone, but when I was last on the street there were plenty of new ones, with that distinctive crest showing they have been patronized by a member of the Royal Family. There was also, back in the day, Hookham’s Circulating Library, well known to ladies as they specialized in novels. Jane Austen’s books sold there. Down the street a bit, I imagine, was Gentleman Jackson’s boxing saloon, where the gents could practice their arts and cheer on their friends and sneer at the less capable.

St. James Street:

I know I’ve been down this street because I rem


White’s Today

ember passing one of the famous men’s clubs there (they still are!) but unfortunately don’t remember which one. White’s, Boodle’s, and Brooke’s were all there and still remain. Back in Regency days, respectable women did not walk nor drive in open carriages, because the men clustered at the windows would remark on what they saw. (Why did they cluster at the windows? To be researched . . . )


The Strand

Here I have an address for Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. It stood at 101, where the Savoy Hotel now is. It was a particular favorite for all, rich and poor, to stand gawking at the windows where they posted topical prints and those magnificent caricatures that made fun of everyone, but primarily the rich and famous.

King Street:

This is where the fabled Almack’s stood, and where the ton danced who had managed the difficult feat of obtaining tickets by way of the seven formidable ladies who were the patronesses, each of whom made sure that her tickets only went to the socially deserving. There was an enormous ballroom, about a hundred feet long and


Regency Almack’s

. One did not come to Almack’s for the refreshments: they were only the lightest of wines, orgeat or ratafia, and the food was sparing and negligible. Almack’s ma




in function was to act as a showcase for the pick of the debutantes. It was there that girls were launched by their mothers and made to parade for inspection. It’s not still there. Isn’t that a pity?



That was where the Prince Regent and affluent others came for their bottles of scent. Both men and women wore scent as a matter of course. The Prince used eau de Cologne, eau de Nile (certainly not what it sounds like!), lavender water, Oil of Roses, Oil of Jasmine and Oil of Orange Flower as well as “Bergamotte.” The best perfumers at the time were a French firm, Bourgeois Amick and Son, with premises in Haymarket.

Haymarket is mostly theaters now, if I remember correctly. But, faithful readers, I will be finding out soon, and my next blog will be a report on how my expedition went.

Au revoir!the reluctant heart

(Images of White’s and Almack’s from Wikipedia)