Weekly Reading Round-Up
I had a big treat this week: an early copy of Simone St. James’s upcoming book, The Other Side of Midnight!
In this one, a reluctant medium finds herself drawn into a former friend’s murder inquiry, pulling her back into a world that she’s been avoiding since their big falling out years before. As always, St. James’s depiction of life in the 1920s is pitch-perfect, and her heroine the sort of person you’d like to visit with over a large pot of tea.
For those An Inquiry Into Love and Death fans out there, happy news: it’s Inspector Merriken who’s on the case.
The bad news? The Other Side of Midnight isn’t out until April. But I can promise that it is worth the wait.
Other than that, it’s been Portugal, Portugal and more Portugal. And a side of Clifford, the Big Red Dog.
What have you been reading this week?
Pink I: Inspirations
This week on the Pink Carnation Read Along, Ashley blogged about inspirations for the Pink series, specifically The Scarlet Pimpernel.
Since I’m blogging along with the Read Along, I’d considered writing about some of the antecedents of the Pimpernel. There have been plenty of people over the year who have debated just where Baroness Orczy came up with the idea for the Pimpernel. Some point to Admiral Sir Sidney Smith, who certainly had plenty of swash and buckle, and was in and out of France (including a stint incarcerated in the Temple Prison)– but who, otherwise, wasn’t a terribly laudable sort of person. If you go to the historical record, you find records of actual flower named spies, including a Le Mouron (the Pimpernel). The drawback? They were French royalists, not English aristocrats. Baroness Orczy always said that Sir Percy came to her, as was, and refused to be drawn further on the question.
So, instead of discussing the origins of Sir Percy, I wanted to talk about my own peculiar wrinkle on the topic: female spies.
When I sat down to write Pink Carnation, I didn’t realize that this would be a controversial choice. I had no idea that I would, a few years later, be bombarded with emails starting with “a young lady would never….”
What I did know? Was that women were and had been spies, as long as there had been anyone on whom to spy.
My dissertation, on which I was working while writing Pink I, involved royalist conspiracies during the latter half of the English Civil Wars. One of the chapters was on women and espionage. It will come as no surprise to know that women were instrumental in smuggling messages, monies, and, occasionally, members of the royal family. One of my favorite characters is Lady Anne Halkett (I will write her story one of these days), who smuggled the Duke of York out of Parliamentarian captivity dressed up in one of her gowns.
So you could say that I had female spies on the brain.
Female spies seemed particularly appropriate during the Napoleonic era, partly because Napoleon himself took such a low view of women. They had the ability to fly under the radar (to borrow a modern analogy) in the way men did not.
During my pre-Pink researches, I came upon references to female spies in operation during the Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, including one called La Prime-Rose (a pun on primrose). My favorite? The forty year old woman who went undercover on a French frigate, disguised as a cabin boy.
Put all that together… and you get the Pink Carnation and her league.
Weekly Reading Round-Up
I’ve been living in the 1920s for so long now, that I desperately needed to read something that wasn’t a) anywhere near the Twenties, or b) set in England. So this week’s haul was:
– Jo Goodman’s In Want of a Wife. We all have those ridiculous plot tropes we secretly love. One of mine is mail order brides. In this case, a rancher in the 1890s Wild West in want of a wife, and the poor cousin of a well to do New York family who answers his ad. Goodman always does a lovely job crafting sensible and believable characters who you’re rooting for all the way.
– Jennifer Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman. Joyous absurdity as the wedding of the granddaughter of a mobster on a Southern plantation gets very, very complicated.
Next up? A big pile of research books about Portugal in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries!
What have you been reading this week?
Pink I: How Eloise Came To Be
“The Tube had broken down. Again…”
I have a secret to share with you: there was no Eloise in the original draft of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
No Eloise, no Colin, no Tube.
The first draft of the book which became The Secret History of the Pink Carnation was purely historical, and largely as you read it now (minus about fifty pages of additional sheep jokes). A friend gave the book to an agent, the agent sent the book out to a few editors, and, in a surprisingly short space of time, I got a call saying that an editor wanted the book, but she had a question for me.
That question was: “Have you ever considered a modern framing story?”
The short answer to that was no, I hadn’t.
“It doesn’t need to be much,” said my agent. “Just one chapter– like someone finding papers in the attic.”
I might have made a mmm-hmm noise. I don’t remember. What I do remember is standing there on the phone in my old studio apartment in Cambridge, struck by the image of a woman clinging to a Tube rail. She had red hair and tall boots and a skirt turned partly wrong way round and a beige sweater with a coffee splotch on it.
I knew her. I had no idea how I knew her, but I did. I knew who she was and where she was going and why she was there.
“Hello?” said my agent. “Are you still there?”
“Does it have to be only one chapter?” I asked.
I could already see what was going to happen. She was going to get off that Tube to visit an elegant elderly lady. That lady had a nephew, a nephew who didn’t want the family papers in someone else’s hands.
“I don’t think so,” said my agent.
“Good,” I said. “Because I think I want it to be a little bit more….”
And that, in a roundabout, accidental way, was how Eloise was born.
There’s a side note to this story. Several months later, I was doing some reading up on Baroness Orczy. (As the publicity for the book release got under way, people had started asking me questions about The Scarlet Pimpernel, and, like a good little grad student, I thought I had better do my research.) What I hadn’t known? Was that Baroness Orczy always claimed that she had first met Sir Percy Blakeney in the Tube. She had been standing on a Tube platform, and there he was, knee breeches, quizzing glass and all.
I wish I could say that I placed Eloise on the Tube deliberately, as a homage to Baroness Orczy. But I didn’t. Like Sir Percy on that Tube platform, she just popped up there, all by herself, with a complete history and story to her.
One might even think it was meant.
For my German readers….
I have a little surprise I’ve been saving for my German-speaking readers! This Christmas, I have an original short story appearing in an anthology called Weihnachtsherzen.
Here’s the official blurb (in German, of course!):
Die junge Zoe, die nach dem herzzerreißenden Ende ihrer Beziehung an die Küste von Maine flieht und von einem geheimnisvollen Fischer auf eine Insel gelockt wird; der Pariser Buchhändler Perdu, der seine große Liebe verwinden und in einem Buch weiterleben möchte; das Mädchen Jasmin, das sich nichts sehnlicher wünscht, als dass sie, ihre Eltern und ihr Bruder wieder eine richtige Familie sind; die Journalistin Katja, die ausgerechnet zu den Feiertagen auf einer Hallig von einer Flut überrascht wird; Ehefrau Anna, die, frisch verlassen, auf dem Speicher eine alte Spieluhr findet und einen Wunsch frei hat…
Ein Weihnachtsfest voller Glück, Wehmut, Hoffnung, Neugier – und vor allem immer wieder Liebe.
The anthology comes out on October 24. My story is called “The Snow Globe”, and is set in 1920s London.
The anthology includes stories by Juliet Ashton, Morgan Callan Rogers, Jane Corry, Sofie Cramer, Gabriella Engelmann, Nina George, Ciara Geraghty, Tessa Hennig, Janne Mommsen, Emma Sternberg, and me.
Now if only I could remember a little more of my “German for Reading Knowledge” class from grad school!