Thursday, September 11th, 2014
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.
You can read a much more detailed post on the subject that I wrote a few years ago over at History Hoydens.
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.
Thursday, September 4th, 2014
A few days ago, Ashley kicked off the Read Along with the first lines of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, in which Eloise is braving London transportation to visit one Mrs. Selwick-Alderly:
“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.
Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
In honor of the merry, merry month of May, Christine brings us… Madeleines!
With this cookie, we go back to the very beginning of the series, to The Secret History of the Pink Carnation….
And now over to Christine!
In the Spring of 1803, Amy Balcourt, along with her cousin Jane Wooliston, and chaperone, Gwen Meadows, set sail for France, which would lead to the birth of the Pink Carnation. It’s been a long, cold winter, but spring has finally definitely arrived (or at least, at the time of this writing, I hope it has!), so we celebrate Miss Amy, the Purple Gentian, the Pink Carnation, and France with Madeleines.
The only previous experience I’ve had with Madeleines are a desperation hunger grab during a trip to Starbucks and that episode of “Friends” when Ross described Freddie Prinze Jr.’s Madeleines as “lighter than air.”
There are about a million Madeleine recipes online but I opted for one that looked simple enough, for the novice baker, and had a ton of great reviews (the only negative review said that Madeleines should not be light and airy, but rather should be dense and buttery, like the ones at Starbucks. I decided to stick with the opinions of the 100 other people who said it was a good recipe).
The recipe below is taken from allrecipes.com:
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 granulated sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon zest (I substituted orange)
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup powdered sugar for decoration (the recipe says granulated sugar but I assume that’s a mistake based on every picture of Madeleines I’ve ever seen)
1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease 12-Madeleine pan.
2. Melt butter and let cool to room temperature.
3. Beat eggs, vanilla and salt together at a high speed until airy (this only took about a minute).
4. While continuing to beat, add the granulated sugar. Continuing beating until the mixture is thick and forms ribbons when the beaters are lifted. This will take about 5-10 minutes (mine looked somewhere between thin frosting and thick pancake batter).
5. Sift flour into egg mixture, 1/3 at a time, gently folding.
6. Add lemon (or orange) zest, then pour butter around the edge of the mixture. Quickly but gently, fold it in.
7. Spoon batter into the pan. The batter will mound over the tops.
8. Bake 14-17 minutes. Cakes should spring back when you gently press a finger into them.
9. Loosen the Madeleines with the tip of a knife and invert onto a wire rack to cool, with the shell-side facing up (I had greased a non-stick pan and they slid out without any effort).
10. Quickly dust the hot Madeleines with powdered sugar (I used far less than the 1/3 cup stated in the recipe).
This was actually much easier than I thought it would be, and they came out looking good. Well, the dusting could’ve been neater, but the cakes were pretty. I baked them for 15 minutes and I think they were a tad over-baked. A little too dense and crunchy along the edges (though I LOVE crunchy cookies). And absolutely delicious.
I consider my first foray into Madeleines close to a success, and I’m looking forward to trying some of the ones on this impressive list from Huffington Post.
Don’t those look amazing? I am thrilled to hear that these were easier than they look, because they are very popular chez moi– and those little boxes of them from the supermarket don’t tend to last long. (My spouse swears it’s the fault of Francophile gnomes.)
Thank you so much, Christine! I will definitely be trying this recipe.
Here’s the big question: lemon zest, orange zest, or plain?
Friday, May 9th, 2014
I have very happy news! The first three books in the Pink Carnation series– The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, The Masque of the Black Tulip, and The Deception of the Emerald Ring— are being published in French in Canada!
The publisher is Ada of Quebec. As soon as I have release dates, and covers, and all that sort of thing, I’ll be sure to share here!
Monday, July 29th, 2013
For those of you who are Nook readers, it’s just come to my attention that Pink I, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, is also on sale for $2.99 on Nook right now!
Here’s the sale round-up:
Pink I: currently $2.99 on Kindle, Nook, and Kobo.
The Orchid Affair: $2.99 today only on Kindle as the Amazon Daily Deal; $2.99 in hardcover at Barnes & Noble.
Monday, July 29th, 2013
Excitement! For the first time ever, the e-book of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is on sale! It’s currently only $2.99 on Amazon.
If you have friends who have been wanting to try the Pink series, let them know!
Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
Let’s go all the way back to the very beginning… Pink I, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
Who: Amy Balcourt and Richard Selwick
Where: England and France
When: Spring, 1803
What: Amy Balcourt is determined to track down the Purple Gentian—so she can join him. Mistaken identities and deeds of derring-do ensue.
Historical Cameos: Assorted Bonapartes
Having been out for a while, Pink I has all sorts of add-ons: there are the Pink Carnation comics, designed in celebration of Pink’s 5th anniversary back in 2010, foreign editions in ten languages, and even a special sequel, the Christmas novella, Ivy & Intrigue.
Along the way, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation has had three separate covers (not counting all the foreign covers): the chick lit version that never went to press, the fine art version that you’ll see on the hardcover and trade paperback, and a more playful photo cover for the mass market.
My favorite scene? The scene where Miss Gwen goes after Bonaparte is a close second, but my favorite scene to write was what I think of as “the mob scene”: when the intrepid Purple Gentian’s extended family– and best friend– all descend on him in his Paris town house. And give him a very hard time.
What’s your favorite scene from The Secret History of the Pink Carnation?
Tuesday, August 7th, 2012
To make up for not doing an If You Like yesterday, I am shamelessly piggybacking off Shelf Awareness, which just posted a list of novels in which Napoleon makes a cameo appearance– including our own The Garden Intrigue.
For today’s Shelf Awareness recommendations, click here. For a much longer list of Napoleonic-set novels (including Pink Carnation!), try here.
Sunday, February 19th, 2012
As part of their “sharing the love” promotion, my UK publisher is offering the e-version of the original Pink Carnation for 99p.
(Seeing that 99p price sticker brings up such fond memories of my time in London– mostly attached to large blocks of Cadbury.)
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation will be available to UK readers for 99p for the rest of the month of February from Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Waterstone’s.
Other books in the promotion include Susanna Kearsely’s The Rose Garden, which I love love love– if you’re eligible for the promotion, snap it up now!
Tell a UK friend and share the love!
Friday, October 28th, 2011
Pink I got a shout-out in the “Great Reads” section of today’s Shelf Awareness!
Shelf Awareness calls The Secret History of the Pink Carnation “pure Regency delight”. Thank you!!