Remembering Where I’ve Been

by Beppie Harrison

I’ve been lucky enough to get to England reasonably frequently. Ireland as well, as it happens. My secret is a simple one: I married an Englishman who wants to go home as often as we can manage it. I don’t think he wants to live there—quite certainly not after Brexit!—but it’s home to both of us now, as the first years of our marriage were spent there and our first daughter was born there and the second adopted during those years.

Needless to say, we have lots of pictures taken over the years. The ones with people in them are relatively easy to identify, but the landscape shots are, shall we say, a bit more difficult. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

Take this one:

DSC_0099Now I actually posted this with the full conviction that it was a rural site in Ireland. Well, no. This summer with our Yorkshire cousins we drove past the spot and she pointed, saying, “Remember picnicking there?” Oh. Okay. So that was Yorkshire, huh? Well, it was a nice picture in a pretty spot, wherever it happened to be.

Or this one:

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That is in Ireland. I’m sure of it. I just don’t remember where in Ireland. It wasn’t Dublin. Most likely it was somewhere in County Meath, which was the first area that the English really dominated. In fact, in early Anglo-Irish times, Meath was the central part of the Pale, where during the 15th century when Anglo/Norman government was weakened, the English authority was strongest. Which is where you get the phrase “beyond the pale,” which now generally means exceeding the limits of civilized behavior. Then it was the area where what the English considered the dangerous, barbaric Irish were rampant.

Wherever it is in Ireland, I was charmed by the contrast between the ancient stone hut built in 700 or so by one of the early saints and the communication tower rearing up behind. In later post-Henry VIII days, there was a tunnel made between this hut and the church across the way, so that Catholics could escape the concentrated attempts of the English to annihilate all traces of Popish loyalty.

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Now this is one I do remember. Not only where, but when. That is our old house in Kew, just across the Green from Kew Gardens. It was built in 1850 or so, when Victorian London was expanding in all directions. Our house is the one by the car facing to the right. It was 14 feet wide, but very deep. We had two living rooms, a dining room, a big kitchen (that was a new extension: when we bought the house it had a kitchen 4 feet deep that had once been the outhouse and a sort of pantry by the side), bathroom, and three bedrooms. I loved that house. In 2015 when we were in London with our granddaughter we had some extra time and had a cab driver take us out to Kew. It took two hours. I was limping at the time (recovering from spinal surgery!) so we couldn’t take the Tube which would have been much faster.

But I loved seeing it again. The man with my husband (who has the camera) is the present owner of the house who’s lived there for 30 years. My architect husband was pleased beyond measure that he has kept all of the changes we’d made in the house: stripping the brick party wall and painting the bricks white, raising the floor level of the back living room, and keeping the circular staircase. It’s still wonderfully the same!

Is This Work or Fun?

by Ruth J. Hartman

About this time last year, my husband and I attended our annual family reunion. It changes location yearly, and it’s a slightly different crowd each time, depending on who can make it. Sitting there with my cousins, I looked around. Everyone there had hosted the gathering since we had. I counted back. Six years ago? Not good. Time for me to take one for the team and volunteer.

Usually, we make the trek from Indiana to Wyoming every summer to visit my sister. Knowing we’d be having lots of people at our house, we opted not to this year. Once we got home from the reunion, we looked around our old house through the eyes of future visitors.

Hmmm. Not good.

Projects we’d talked about completing for thirty years since we’d moved in, suddenly seemed important.

This needs to be done now!

Time to renovate!

What followed was an entire year of gutting a bathroom. Waiting for the plumber. Painting rooms. Waiting for the plumber. Stripping, staining and finishing two floors. Waiting for the plumber. And investing in a handmade bar for entertaining guests and new flooring in the kitchen.

 

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And waiting for the plumber.

My husband did a lot of the work, but didn’t have much free time due to his IT position at a local company. I write full time, but reasoned that I could push that aside for a little while as I worked on the house.

Did I say a little while? For months on end, I used a sledge hammer, screwdriver, paint brush, crow bar, and shop vac.

While I waited for the plumber.

Lots of smashed fingers, sore muscles, bruises and not a little bleeding later, we’d transformed five rooms into something we’d wanted for what seemed like forever.

The weekend finally came. Not everyone could make it, but we had a blast with twenty relatives on Friday night and Saturday until that evening. So, while we didn’t get to travel, the ones who attended reunion did.

And like everything we anticipate and strive for, the weekend flew by. The following day, we were worn out. And amazed that something we’d planned for and talked about for twelve months was over.

Even though it took longer, cost more, and was more challenging than we’d ever thought, my husband and I were thrilled with the fun we’d had with my family. But we’re kind of glad the manual labor is over so we can enjoy the renovations.

And not have to wait for the plumber.

Bathroom after-1

 

Never Enough Time to Explore

by Barbara Bettis

Like many people, I love to travel, although I don’t get to do it often enough. But one of my favorite trips a few years ago was to Scotland with overnights in London, coming and going. Our small tour group of five, including me, traveled by rail and did a lot of walking. The rail service is wonderful, but a little confusing for a first-timer. Fortunately. our leaders had visited Scotland many times and everything went smoothly.

 

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Our base camp was Newbattle Abbey, a short distance from Edinburgh. It is absolutely beautiful. The abbey itself is breathtaking, but the grounds are even more magical. I loved roaming among the ancient trees, manicured gardens, and even a small cave across a tiny brook where the monks once kept things cool.

Unfortunately my own photos didn’t do it justice, so I’ve included a couple from the abbey’s website. If you’re planning a trip, I highly recommend it, if not for overnighting, at least for visiting. One of the attendants kindly showed me the only remaining part of the original structure, lengths of stone that are now parts of the flooring. Oh, and the abbey is not too far from Rosslyn Chapel and Rosslyn Castle.

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I found everything on that first trip endlessly fascinating. It goes without saying that high on the list of fascinations were the castles. Of course, Edinburgh and Stirling castles with their history and treasures were great, but Linlithgow really caught my fancy. Although it fell victim to a fire in 1746 and is roofless, the rooms remain and tours are conducted. The Palace was the birthplace of James V and Mary Queen of Scots.

On that trip, we were able to see a variety of sights (and sites), but I long to return on my own, to explore to my heart’s content and take in more of the beautiful old castles. The list of must-sees is so long, I may be there for weeks on end.

The next journey, however, will be a longer one to England. All my medieval books are set around Nottingham, so I definitely want to tour that area. And in the interest of research, I must investigate the oldest inns in that city—apparently there are three which vye for that title: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Ye Olde Salutation Inn, and the Bell Inn.

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Basically, though, I just want to explore and explore… And I welcome any suggestions on places to visit there!

 

 

The Magical Art of World-Building

 

“World-building”. To a writer, the very word conjures up excitement and anticipation, the opportunity to let the imagination soar into fresh skies, plunge into original environments, create a world that is absolutely unique—or only a little bit original—from our own. In world-building, one must “step outside the box”, think along paths that are strange. It’s a chance to stave off becoming stale in our writing by engaging in a mind-stretching adventure with all artistic weapons at the ready.

In meeting this challenge with my next novel, Winds of Carthanna, a low-fantasy medieval romance, I’ve discovered building even a slightly different medieval world is both fun and amazingly difficult. I want a novel world (the low-fantasy part), but in a setting that feels so familiar my readers will be at home there. Yet the effort required to step into the future or a place that doesn’t exist is truly daunting. It sounds simple. Just think up something new and write it, but the first thing one learns in world-building is that a new world means new laws by which that world must operate.

If one introduces what seems even a minor alternation, such as the sky will be amethyst instead of blue, it must be believable. Why is it amethyst? Although this information would never get into the story unless, e.g., the people of the world can control the weather, the author still must gain an idea behind what causes the change. (Magic? Thought control? Advanced technology? Unique cosmic circumstances?) But it ripples out from there. Each of those creates its own set of ever-expanding variations to real life, not to mention that a different color of sky will probably mean different vegetation, possibly differing climatic conditions. The people who inhabit the world may see a dissimilar visible color spectrum, or even hues unique to our real world – and that’s only the beginning. One question leads to ten others, which lead to… well, you get the idea. If one initiates a major innovation like some form of magic or an original race of beings, not thinking through the rules governing this alteration can lead to painting oneself into a corner very quickly — and then having to figure out how to write one’s way out.

What might seem a tiny bump along this road can become a pitfall (it required over an hour of work and uncounted permutations of a known word to generate a brand new word to describe my hero. In the process, I learned how much care an author must take when I discovered that the made-up word I liked the best turned out to be a real word that had a rather unfortunate definition in another language. Eek!)

It’s even difficult to decide how to describe my setting in world-building terms beyond “low-fantasy historical romance”. A “mirror” earth in a parallel universe? An alternate reality? Yet that shoves hard against sci-fi boundaries, and I want the fantasy kingdom I’m building to feel like it belongs to a distant time on our earth. After all, I want my knights to ride horses, but realistically, how many other worlds possess equine transportation? Yet my research indicates a fantasy kingdom within our world must have an explanation of how it can exist all unknown to us. So far, I can’t think of one that hasn’t already been dreamed up.

You might ask, is it worth it? Oh, yes.

Aye, it’s a challenge. I’ve got a list of about 150 questions to answer about my imaginary kingdom. Some are easy. Others are not. Aye, it means way more time and effort than normal research. But oh, it’s fun! It’s also invigorating to the creative process. When I return to the last two books in the Ballads of the Roses, I’ll be ready to tackle those stories with mind and heart refreshed.

 

 

My Working Vacation–with hubby and the dogs

 

 

Vacation_cabinLast summer I was fortunate enough to attend a conference in Scotland and escaped a couple of weeks of the hot temperatures back home. I enjoyed lots of lush, cool weather, great friends and fantastic scenery. While I planned my escape into the Highlands, hubby plotted our departure this summer into the mountains.

Sounds great, right? Oh, it will be. As soon as I have all the loose ends tied up. We’ll be headed to a cabin in the Rocky Mountains where the temperatures will range from low 50s at night to mid 70s during the day. Since we’re currently experiencing lows in the 70s and highs in the mid 90s, it’s got the makings of a wonderful retreat already.

I’ll be finishing a book and all the associated trappings. Hubby will be teaching his classes on-line. Maybe a drop-in by one of the kids. I’m planning to meet up with a fellow author I met in Scotland who lives in the neighborhood, so to speak, and of course I won’t miss a chance to browse all Colorado Springs has to offer. Work + vacation. I can’t wait!

But back to the loose ends. Did I mention we’re taking the dogs?

We have a house sitter for the little dog (she’s 13 and not likely to handle the drive or the changes well) and the cat. (Heaven help me if he has to be in a carrier for more than 5 minutes!) But the 2 big dogs? Yep, they’re going with us.

I really think they’ll enjoy the trip. They don’t like the hot weather, either, and hubby and I plan to hike, explore the countryside, (I’m wearing my new hiking boots even as I write this to help break them in before we leave, lol!) and the dogs certainly love to be outside. But the planning has been complicated.

Fortunately, I grew up with a mom who showed dogs, so traveling with them is not new. I just had to stop and re-think the process. Shots up to date? Check. Flea and tick control? Check. New, sturdy collars and leashes? Multiple ID tags? Check and check. Water and food? Medications? Blankets, towels? Treats, toys? Will both crates fit in the car? We’re talking German Shepherds, here. With scant centimeters to spare, check.

Of course, this leaves very little room for personal belongings. I’m laughing to think I’ll need to pack for a 3-week stay in a duffel bag. Unless I could talk hubby into leaving his guitar and fly fishing gear at home. (Not a chance, and I really wouldn’t ask). What about the sundry items I don’t want to have to buy once I’m there? Or a cooler for snacks along the way? Or the sheets and pillows we’ll need at the KOA cabin we’ll stop at overnight to break the long drive in half? (Have you tried to book a hotel with more than one dog lately? We did, two years ago with 3 dogs, though it was 2 corgis and a German Shepherd puppy, and everyone thought they were adorable. But that’s another story. One we won’t repeat any time soon.)

Be sure and follow me on social media. You know I’ll be posting photos!! Check out my facebook page (and give it a ‘like’ while you’re there. You can’t imagine how much this helps an author) at https://www.facebook.com/cathymacraeauthor or Instagram for those quick snapshots at cathymacrae_author.

Would you travel with your pet?

Here’s a look at my four-legged vacation buddies!17_06_22_Freki & Gunnar in car

The Gardens at Sissinghurst

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I first discovered Sissinghurst Castle and its wonderful gardens by a very roundabout method. I was fascinated (possibly “overwhelmed” is the better word) by Virginia Woolf, and when I came to Orlando, my imagination was captured by the strange creature she created and that transferred quickly to Vita Sackville-West, whom Virginia Woolf had written the book for and about. Well, once I was onto Vita Sackville-West, discovering the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle was the automatic next step. Vita and her husband, the diplomat and writer Harold Nicolson, had taken the tumbledown ruins of an Elizabeth castle and built a world-famous garden around them.

 

Although I never really developed a passion for Vita’s writing, I have to say the garden that Harold Nicolson designed and Vita planted is one of my favorite places on earth. It must have been a strange place to live in: what was left of the castle was primarily a long strip of entrance building, a section with two towers set off by itself, miscellaneous brick walls, a moat (or bits of one) and two buildings, one of they called the Priest’s House and the other South Cottage. Vita made her workroom in one of the towers; the kitchen for them all and their two sons’ bedrooms were in the Priest’s House, and she and Harold slept in South Cottage. It must have been chilly on a cold winter morning to have to scamper through shreds of snow and icy brick footpaths from the South Cottage to the Priest’s House for breakfast! I think that one of their sons’ response to his first sight of the place, in complete ruins, was not unreasonable: “Do you mean we have to live here?” In the end, the only room designed as a common room was the library at the end of the entrance range.

 

But oh, the gardens! Out of the unpromising materials Vita and Harold planned (that was mostly Harold) and planted (that was mostly Vita) one of the most astonishingly beautiful gardens—a series of rooms between the wall fragments, hundreds of roses tumbling over the brick walls and exquisite flowers everywhere you look. Everyone has their own special place. One of my favorites is the South Cottage garden, where Harold liked to sit in the evenings—all the flowers are in sunset colors, planted thickly and lavishly, around the architectural trees he loved in the middle. My husband loves the rose garden, although there are roses everywhere, not just there. They climb up walls, fall over others with a richness of blossoms, and their fragrance scents the air. We both love the White Garden, where all the flowers are shades of white and grey that contrast deliciously with the rich greens of the foliage.

 

The first picture shows the vista through the sculptured trees to the entrance of the South Cottage (their bedrooms were there, as well as Harold’s writing room), and the other is of me, dreamily clutching my cane—more boring troubles with my spine, etc.—and gazing around at brilliantly red poppies, and rising up over my head, the first rose, a white one, that they planted there. Even before they received the deed!

 

If you go to England, you must go there. It’s in the Weald of Kent, now administered by the National Trust, and it’s unforgettable.

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The Medieval Book

by Edwina Moore

I’m delighted to be doing a guest post (my first!). I’m Edwina Moore. I have a PhD in medieval history, which came in pretty handy when I decided to write a romance set in fourteenth-century France. A Knight’s Ransom isn’t published yet, but a couple of agents asked to see the full manuscript, and now I wait…so much waiting. But never fear, gentle readers, I am not sitting idle. A Knight’s Redemption is in the works.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about books. Now, asking a writer to talk about books is a dangerous thing. I could talk about books until the proverbial cows have gone back out again. I thought about my favorite books. Yes, plural, because who has just one favorite? I thought about the book that introduced me to romance (Seduction, by Amanda Quick) and the one that led me to medieval history (The Lord of the Rings), but instead I decided to write about the book in the Middle Ages.

The book format we know—covers, pages, chapters, margins, headings, the use of different colors and fonts to set off information (think a textbook), page numbers, not to mention punctuation and spaces between words, all developed over the Late Antique and medieval periods. In terms of the physical object, books made reading easier—imagine reading Game of Thrones on a scroll and needing to re-read something because you can’t remember who that character is in chapter four. Books are also easier to store than scrolls, and parchment is less vulnerable to damp than papyrus. Rubrication, things like chapter headings and page numbers, made finding information more efficient. Books could also be any size, small enough to fit in your palm—Leona, the heroine of A Knight’s Ransom, has such a book—or so large that it would take a couple of people to hold them.

A lot of work went into producing a medieval book. This included preparing the parchment, making the inks, ruling the parchment—if you look closely at some medieval books, you can still see the pinpricks in the margins and the faint lines crossing the parchment—writing or more likely copying the text BY HAND (think about Game of Thrones or a book by Stephanie Laurens—Lord of the Privateers is 500 pages; imagine copying that by hand), adding illuminations or illustrations, assembling the pages into quires, adding the covers…it’s quite a process.

It’s no surprise, then, that books were status symbols. The more expensive the materials, the more elaborate the illuminations, the more ornate the covers, the more wealth and status the owner had. Most books were simple and, relatively, inexpensive: chapbooks, simple Books of Hours, and the like. Only wealthy patrons could afford something like the Trés Riches Heures du duc de Berry, and books were often handed down in wills as valuable moveable property.

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Medieval books are pretty amazing, and I love to talk about them whenever I get a chance. My thanks to Beppie et al for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to do it.