Cover Reveal!

Today is that exciting, slightly strange day in an author’s life–especially a newbie author–when a cover is revealed. I have mentioned before that it is a surreal experience seeing a character visually revealed, one who has lived nowhere but in your own head for awhile. But I have to say, cover artist RJ Morris totally nailed it.

So without further ado, the cover for Secret Promise, to be released by The Wild Rose Press later this year:




Falsely imprisoned as a blockade-runner during the American Civil War, Edward Mason yearns to go home. But when after seven years he finally returns to England, the life he expected is gone. His parents are dead, his home destroyed, his father’s legacy stolen, and his girl—his girl is now the single mother of a child Edward never knew.

Abandoned by the man she loved and disowned by her family, Anna Templeton has learned to stand on her own two feet and make a home for her son. Now the successful owner of The Silver Gull tavern, she’s not about to put their happiness in the hands of the one man who let her down so badly.

Edward is determined to regain Anna’s love and be a father to his son. But when a series of suspicious accidents threaten him and those he loves, he must stop the man responsible, or lose everything.

Grey Towers of Durham


My debut novel, Stirring Up the Viscount, takes place in County Durham in northeast England. I lived in Durham for a year in the mid-80s, while I attended the University of Durham. I was struck by the city’s beauty and grit back then, and found it an inspiring setting for a romance all these (many, many) years later.

Durham Cathedral 1985

Durham Cathedral 1985


Durham has a fascinating history. It begins with the story of St. Cuthbert, a seventh century monk from Northumberland. He was for many years the bishop of Lindisfarne, an island off the coast of Northumberland, who traveled far and wide across northern England. When Cuthbert died in 687, he was entombed in the monastery on Lindisfarne. Some years later, the monks on the island inspected the coffin for some reason, and discovered that Cuthbert’s body was perfectly preserved, a miracle deemed worthy of sainthood. St. Cuthbert continued to lie undisturbed until Vikings threatened to raid Lindisfarne in 793.



The monks fled the island, along with holy relics and the coffin of St. Cuthbert. Legend has it that they carried it around for more than a century until they reached a spot to the east of what is now Durham. The saint’s coffin suddenly became too heavy to lift, and no amount of effort would budge it. After three days of prayers and fasting, the monks reported that a vision of St. Cuthbert appeared to them, instructing the faithful that Dun Holm (meaning “Hill Island”) should be his final resting place.

The monks had never heard of such a place, but now that they had their marching orders they were able to move the coffin again. The story goes that while they were searching, they overheard a milkmaid asking whether anyone had seen her dun cow, and was told the cow was last spotted at Dun Holm. Overjoyed, the monks followed the milkmaid until arriving at Dun Holm (I like to picture a very Monty Python-esque assembly chasing after a milkmaid through the forest), which was a peninsula set inside a tight bend of the River Wear.  Eventually known as Durham, the area was found to be an ideal resting place for St. Cuthbert, and the monks settled there.

Durham Cathedral from riverbank


A wooden “White Church” was built in the center of the peninsula in 995, and replaced by a stone minster in 998. The present cathedral was constructed between 1093 and 1133.

Durham Castle



Construction began on Durham Castle in 1072. It housed the Bishop of Durham, and enabled defense of the area from invasion by the Scots.

Durham became one of England’s leading centers of scholarship during the medieval period, and three of the colleges which are now part of Oxford University—University, Balliol, and Trinity–had their origins in Durham. Although efforts were made to create a university in Durham as early as 1541, politics and North-South rivalries prevented it until 1832. Durham Castle housed the first of Durham University’s fourteen colleges, University College. Still in use today, the Castle is the oldest university building in the world.

Durham from train station

I had the titular Viscount in my novel, Jonathan Tenwick, attend the University of Durham. By the time he would have matriculated in the late 1850s, there were two more colleges, St. Hild & St. Bede and Hatfield. The paths that Lucien Ravensdale and the Earl of Longley would have walked continue to exist, and the train station still offers one of the most breathtaking views in England (although it’s kind of hard to tell from my really bad 1985 picture).

But it is there that the similarity between the real Durham and my fictional one ends. Although County Durham has been the seat of more than one nobleman and home to plenty of great houses, there is no Earl of Longley, no Longley Hall.  Nevertheless, I find that being able to picture a real place in my mind when I write makes it easier to describe the setting, and lets my imagination run wild with the possibility of what might have been.

For more information on Durham and its colorful history, check out:

And if you haven’t yet read about my fictional denizens of Durham, Stirring Up the Viscount is ON SALE for 99 cents at The Wild Rose Press through May 14. Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



Good Vibrations

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently watched the movie Hysteria, a Victorian romp (you’re thinking there’s no such thing, aren’t you?) about the invention of the vibrator. I refuse to say it was hysterical, but it was pretty funny. Underlying it, however, is the very real history of women’s sexuality, and the utter incomprehension of the same by men for thousands of years.

The ancient Greeks, it is said (although some dispute this), believed that women were possessed of a “wandering womb,” which caused any number of health problems. As early as the second century, it was determined that “hysteria” was caused by sexual frustration, and a Greek physician reportedly urged marriage as a cure.  Over the ensuing centuries, other physicians prescribed “digital manipulation,” suppositories, horseback riding, hydrotherapy, massage, and “la titillation du clitoris.” The medical condition of “hysteria” was one of the most diagnosed diseases in history, and was actually still considered a medical disorder by the American Psychiatric Association until 1952.

In the 1860s, a British doctor advocated surgical removal of the clitoris. Dr. Isaac Baker Brown claimed a 70% success rate in curing epilepsy and any number of other ills he claimed were caused by masturbation, until he was expelled from the London Obstetrical Society for performing the procedure on women without their consent.

The very first vibrator was developed by an American physician, George H. Taylor, in 1869. It was a steam-powered “Medical Vibrating and Kneading Machine” that stuck through a hole in a table to massage the pelvic area.

U.S. Patent 86,604.

In the 1880s in England, Joseph Mortimer Granville, the subject of the film, Hysteria, was the first to invent an electric vibrator. The film gleefully notes that the impetus for the invention was the carpal tunnel resulting from Dr. Granville’s tedious manipulation of the nethers of well-to-do Victorian housewives. History suggests a much more mundane origin–he intended it for relief of muscular ailments of men, and tried to distance himself from the device when its use became popular for treatment of hysteria. He discusses the device, which he called a “percuteur,” in his 1883 book, Nerve-Vibration and Excitation as Agents in the Treatment of Functional Disorder and Organic Disease.

Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, 1833-1900

Rachel Maines looks the subject in her 1999 book, The Technology of Orgasm–an occasionally unintentionally funny look at the history of women’s sexuality. You can find a lengthy excerpt in the New York Times, which may be quite enough for you to get the picture.


Patent US794003 for Vibrator, 1905.


Physicians, although they considered it a chore and happily used the newest devices to enable them to see more patients for shorter periods, made a lot of money treating hysteria. Women needed frequent treatment, but as none of them were actually sick, there was no risk for the doctor. Portable models became available around 1905, and women continued to see physicians for treatment of hysteria until the 1920s, when the vibrator disappeared from medical literature.

Fortunately, the 1960s came along, and vibrators became small, portable, and easily purchased by women for use in the privacy of their own homes. As Rachel Maines put it, “The women’s movement completed what had begun with the introduction of the electromechanical vibrator into the home: it put into the hands of women themselves the job nobody else wanted.”

The Surprising Truth About Contractions

I use contractions when writing dialogue. When I don’t, the language can seem stilted and unnatural. I have long wondered how common contractions were in days past, but I was afraid to look it up and find that they weren’t common, because then I would have to make a decision: use historically inaccurate language to make it sound more natural, or use historically accurate language that seemed odd to modern readers. But when one of my critique partners objected to the word “can’t” in the first line of my book as historically inaccurate, I finally looked it up.

Did the Victorians use can’t, won’t, and other words regularly in ordinary speech? The answer is a resounding yes, as did many, many generations before them.

The brilliant book English Through the Ages by William Brohaugh (if you write historical fiction you must have this on your shelf) notes that the following words were in use before the seventeenth century:

1605: we’d, you’d
1610: they’ll
1615: they’ve
1625: it’s
1640: don’t, who’d
1655: can’t, won’t
1665: I’d, shan’t
1670: ma’am
1680: they’d
1695: you’ve

Other contractions that we think of as modern date from the 16th century, and were in use before:

1570: I’ll
1580: we’ll
1595: I’m, she’ll, they’re, you’ll, you’re

Others came later:

1745: I’ve, mustn’t, she’s, we’ve
1780: ain’t
1820: t’aint
1860: doesn’t, it’ll
1865: we’re
1890: mightn’t
1905: it’d
1970: ’til

photo (4)These words were in existence, but did anyone use them? Definitely.

Although she used contractions sparingly, Jane Austen’s characters did say “can’t,” “don’t,” “won’t,” and “I’ll”: “[Y]ou can’t think how disappointed he will be if you don’t come to Cleveland.” (Sense and Sensibility, written 1798, published 1811) “…I am sure it will be too much for Kitty. Won’t it, Kitty?” (Pride and Prejudice, written 1797, published 1813) “Captain Harville holds himself quite engaged, I’ll answer for it.” (Persuasion, written 1816, published posthumously 1818)



In North and South, written in 1854, Elizabeth Gaskell used “can’t” 45 times, “don’t” 79 times, “won’t” 49 times, “doesn’t” 10 times, “I’ve” 40 times, “you’ve” 56 times, and, well, you get the idea. Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain–every one of them used contractions in their books.

There are many times when I’m writing that I will want to use a word, only to find it didn’t exist at the time.  Most contractions, fortunately, don’t fall into that category.

What words seem modern to you that might not be?


Author Interview: Louise Lyndon

Today I welcome Louise Lyndon, a fellow Wild Rose Press author. Louise’s debut novel, Of Love and Vengeance, released on December 19, 2014.

Welcome to the blog, Louise! Author Pic

Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?

Currently, I live in Melbourne, Australia. And I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember!

What inspired you to write Of Love and Vengeance?

The characters in my head would not keep quiet! So I really had no choice but to write this book. It was to quiet the voices in my head!

What does your writing process look like? 

I’m a panster. I’ll start with a snippet of a scene and then just go from there. I may not know how the story starts, but I DO know how it ends. It’s then just a matter of filling in the gaps in between.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Oh, I’m a huge TV buff. I love to binge watch series and I’m always on the lookout for something new to watch. I’m really into watching Empire at the moment. I love that show.

What are you working on now?

I have literally (and I do mean literally) just finished the follow up to Of Love and Vengeance, it’s called Of Love and Betrayal. I’ve just submitted it to my editor!

Name one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I’m not the eldest child, or the youngest, nor am I the middle child! 🙂

Mysterious! Only child?

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

I know I should say something that would benefit mankind, but I’m going to say … the ability to be in more than one place at a time. Yes, completely selfish I know!

Not so selfish–I imagine most parents feel the same way at some point!

Neat freak or not so much?

Not so much. If something drops to the floor I don’t rush to pick it up. It’s not like it’s going to fall anything further!

What book are you reading now?

I have to admit I’m not reading anything at the moment. I know, shock, right? But when I’m in the middle of writing I don’t tend to read because I get too distracted by other storylines. And of course I feel guilty about spending a few hours reading when I should be writing. Now that I have just finished writing, Of Love and Betrayal, I’ll be able to start reading again!

I am in total agreement with you there, Louise. I find it very difficult to read when I’m writing, unless it’s in a totally different genre. I tend to gravitate toward paranormal YA at the moment. Thanks so much for joining me today, and best of luck with your release!


COVER Of Love and VengeanceOf Love and Vengeance by Louise Lyndon

Forced to marry Lord Aymon to ensure her nephew’s survival, English Lady Laila vows undying hatred for the Norman she holds responsible for so many deaths. Discovering Aymon has committed an act of treason gives her the chance to seek vengeance he deserves.  But will Laila really let Aymon die once she learns the truth?

A hardened Norman warrior, Lord Aymon has lived through atrocities no man ever should. With the invasion of England over, all he wants is a quiet life and a wife who will give him heirs and obey his every command. Instead, he finds himself wed to feisty and outspoken Laila. But when she learns the truth of his treasonous act, can Aymon count on her to keep his secret?


Aymon caught a flicker of movement from a window on the second story. “I think we’re about to meet the welcome party.” An arrow zoomed toward him and landed on the pommel of his saddle. A half an inch closer and he would no longer be able to sire children. As if in demonstration of his ability with the bow and arrow, the shooter fired again. This time directed toward Hugh. The second arrow too came within a half an inch of his friend’s manhood.

“You missed!” Aymon called toward the shooter.  He questioned his stupidity for mocking someone with such a good aim.

“You want me to show you how good an aim I really am?” a woman’s voice echoed out across the yard.

“Bloody hell,” Hugh half cursed, half laughed. “Where does a woman learn to shoot like that?”

Aymon was shocked and admittedly a little impressed a woman had such remarkable shooting skills. He could use such a sharp shooter on his side in battle. After all, it was better to have someone so skilled firing for you than at you.

Aymon raised his black leather gloved hand in surrender. “No. I’m firmly attached to my balls, thank you very much.”

“Who are you?” the shooter demanded. “And what do you want? There is nothing of value here for you to steal. Be on your way, man, and leave me in peace.”

“Some would say a female is of value,” Aymon drawled sardonically.

A second arrow lodged firmly on the pommel between his legs.

“I do not give third chances. I’ll give you to the count of three to leave. Or else you will find an arrow straight through your heart.”

Aymon’s warhorse whinnied, and he fought to control the beast whose temperament was as black as his coat. “Put down your weapon!”


“We mean you no harm!”


“I am Lord Aymon, and this is Lord Hugh. I’ve come to claim what is rightfully mine.”


The two men looked at one another unsure what to do. “Should we storm the building and lay claim to what is yours?”

Aymon shook his head. He dismounted but never took his eyes from the door to the manor. “She will soon make her appearance.”

Hugh, too, dismounted. “How can you be so sure?”

Aymon looked at his friend. “We do not have arrows through our hearts.”

Find Louise and her books here:
PINTEREST: llyndon3513

Author Interview: Marlow Kelly and a Giveaway!

I am very pleased to welcome author Marlow Kelly, whose most recent historical romance, A Woman of Love, was released by The Wild Rose Press on March 4. MarlowKelly

Thanks for visiting today, Marlow!

Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?

Hi, my name’s Marlow. I grew up in England and moved to Canada in my late twenties. As much as I love my adopted homeland, I do enjoy returning to London and soaking up the history.

I live in Northern Alberta, Canada – Think Ice Road Truckers. It’s cold in the winter and glorious in the summer. I love it.

I didn’t start writing until about seven years ago. I’d always had characters dancing in my head, telling stories. One day I woke up and realized if I didn’t write my stories down they might never be told.

What inspired you to write A Woman of Love?

It was two things. I read that the Victorians were a lot more liberated behind closed doors than they appeared on the surface, and then I read about wife selling. The terms of wife selling varied, sometimes it was used as a way to obtain a divorce and bring an end to an unhappy marriage, but occasionally, as in my book, it was used to pay a debt.

That got me thinking what if…

These days a woman can leave her husband, but in the Victorian Era women were owned, by their husbands. She was at his mercy. From there, the idea grew.

What does your writing process look like? 

At this point I have to say it’s a mess. The Honour, Love and Courage books are a series of novellas. I just held the stories in my head until I’d written them down. I can’t do that with a full-length novel. There are too many plot twists and details to recall. But if I plot the story too deeply then I’ve already told it and I don’t want to write it down. If I don’t plot at all then the story falls apart, normally somewhere in the middle. I’m trying to figure out an approach that’s right for me; I’m more of a work in progress than my stories.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I spend time with my family, read, watch TV, and walk – I get my best ideas when I walk. I also love to travel. My mother says I should have been born a gypsy. I didn’t settle down until I was in my mid-thirties because I was too busy roving; luckily I married a man who likes to travel as much as I do.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a full-length novel that follows A Woman of Honour. It’s called An Unacceptable Woman and is the story of Isabel’s brother, John, and a young street entertainer, Ellie. I’m also plotting a murder mystery romance to follow A Woman of Love.

Name one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I can walk on stilts. Actually, I’ve been married for twenty years and until recently even my husband didn’t know I had this skill. It’s just not something that comes up in everyday conversation. I mean how would that sound? 

“Hi honey, do you want a cup of coffee and by the way, I can walk on stilts.”

Okay, I have to admit the stilts I walk on aren’t very tall – about three feet high– but they’re still stilts, so I count it.

My father made us stilts to play with when I was a child. I really hadn’t thought about it for a long time, and then last summer we were at a street performers festival. The organizers had a large tent set up where spectators could try stilt walking. I looked at them and thought – I can do that. I climbed on and started to walk. It was as if I was ten years old again playing in my backyard.

Other than “butt in chair,” what piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read your work aloud before you let anyone else read it. I cannot emphasize this enough. You would be amazed at the mistakes your mind can overlook. If you don’t want to sound like a winged-nut sitting at the computer talking to yourself, then I suggest you get a program like Natural Reader.  You can plug in some headphones and listen as the computer reads your work. I find it invaluable.

Stilts, wow. 🙂  Thank you so much for joining me today, Marlow. A Woman of Love sounds wonderful and I can’t wait to read it. Best of luck with it!


A Woman of Love, by Marlow Kelly

When her dissolute husband insists that Lady Annabel Peters bed one of his villainous cohorts to repay a gambling debt, she is scandalized. But she is forced to agree because he controls every aspect of her life.

A physically and emotionally crippled war hero, James Drake has retreated from society. At the request of his brother, he manipulates events so he can interrogate Annabel, a woman he thinks may be part of a ring of thieves.

Neither of them count on an instant and overwhelming attraction. James may now believe Annabel but she suspects her husband plans to kill her. As one of her husband’s friends, James is not to be trusted.

Yet how can she escape a man who has the ability to control her with a gentle kiss?


Lady Annabel Peters sat in the open-top carriage and realized she had left it too late. She should have escaped yesterday.

“Really, Annabel, I don’t want you to give your left eye. All I’m asking is that you go in there and do what comes naturally.” Lord Elliott Peters, her husband of two months, sat opposite her, smoothing his waistcoat against his flat, toned abdomen. A lock of blond hair fell across his brow, accentuating his startling blue eyes. He claimed all he had to do was crook his finger, and besotted society women swooned, but she couldn’t imagine it. His grotesque personality obliterated any physical beauty he possessed.

The warm summer breeze touched her face. She inhaled the scent of grass and honeysuckle. Frogs sang somewhere in the distance, and crickets chirped, a sure sign it was going to be a warm night. She looked out at the passing Berkshire countryside, and wondered how anything this ugly could happen on such a perfect summer evening.

“It is not natural for a married woman to bed a man who is not her husband.” She struggled to breathe; a vise tightened around her chest.

“You must be joking. Women do it all the time. That’s how they entertain themselves. You didn’t believe we would be faithful to each other for the rest of our lives, did you? What a ridiculous notion.”

The thought of copulating with Elliott was horrific enough. Now he wanted her to sleep with his friends, too. Bile rose in her throat at the idea of having to endure another man like her husband. He was totally amoral, and thought nothing of sleeping with a friend’s wife. He undoubtedly took pleasure in it. He never controlled his lust. If he saw a woman he wanted, he took her by any means possible.

You can find A Woman of Love at:
The Wild Rose Press

You can hear more from Marlow at:

And finally, a giveaway!  Marlow is giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Visit to get Marlow’s blog tour dates in March and follow the tour. The more you comment, tweet, and follow, the more chances you have to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway



The Rusticators

My next book takes place in a fictional town in Maine, near Bar Harbor. Set in 1871, it precedes the “gilded age” experienced in many American cities–my hometown among them–but by then the wanderings of America’s wealthy elite were already being felt in Maine.  As I was doing research for the book, I made some discoveries.

In the 1850s, Frederic Edwin Church, a second generation member of the Hudson River School of painters, visited Mount Desert Island, on which rests Bar Harbor (officially known as “Eden” until 1918) and its fictional neighbor.

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photograph taken by author.)

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)

His paintings, as well as those of  his peers, captivated America’s wealthy denizens of the south, and they began to visit Maine in significant numbers. In 1890, W.H. Sherman, in his Sherman’s Bar Harbor Guide, Business Directory, and Reference Book, writes the following “bird’s-eye” description of the area:

A beautiful, landlocked bay stretching away into the distance and losing itself in numerous coves and inlets, amid purple hills and green, wooded shores, its waters now washing the feet of weather-worn precipices and anon breaking softly on glistening sand and pebbles. Studded over the surface of this bay are bright emerald islands, rich in foliage, stately landmarks of the ages. As the summer sun shines brightly on this panorama of sea and mountain, one can imagine himself in the home of the lotus eaters, so enticingly does it seem to invite to repose.

On one side of this beautiful bay is an island, an island rich in all the wonders and beauties of nature. Majestic mountains rear their bold summits toward the sky, and sheltered valleys lie nestling at their base. Lovely lakes abound, reflecting in their pellucid depths an endless vista of mountain and forest. Brooks, with shady pools where the trout love to hide, flow gently through its vales or leap, foaming, from rock to rock in their headlong course to the sea. Mountain, forest and lake scenery meet the eye in every direction, while the rock-bound shores and lofty cliffs form a picturesque frontier to this island paradise.

Winslow Homer, <emEarly Morning After a Storm at Sea</em>, 1900-1903. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)

Winslow Homer, Early Morning After a Storm at Sea, 1900-1903. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)


Travel by land was difficult–trains only went as far as Portland–so the best way to reach Mount Desert Island was by steamship from Boston, which had its own hardships.  Because the journey was arduous, visitors tended to stay for a month or more.

These “rusticators,” as they were known by the locals, initially stayed in hotels–in 1855 a New York lawyer named Charles Tracy brought 27 people, including Frederic Church, to stay in a village tavern. He kept a diary about his experiences, which was published, including illustrations by Frederic Church, by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society in 1997. (There are used copies available on Amazon, ranging in price from $5 to $285. Seriously.)

After a few summers, however, the visitors grew weary of rusticating, and began to build “cottages,” ornate structures with 20-30 or more rooms. The “Golden Age” of Bar Harbor and surrounding towns began in earnest around 1880. At its height, the season featured lavish parties nearly every day of the week. According to the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, “Some ‘cottagers’ actually hired teams of local workers who would move, largely by hand, fully grown oak, maple and elm trees to different locations on the lawn each year, much like one would rearrange furniture or change the composition of a flower garden!”


The locals did reap benefits from these eccentric summer visitors. They provided jobs year round, and John D. Rockefeller financed 57 miles of gravel roads and 17 hand-carved granite stone bridges on Mount Desert Island, and donated one-third of the land which became Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi River. He convinced many of his friends to donate land as well. Another summer visitor, George Dorr, charted and created many of the trails in the park.

The Golden Age hit its decline with the creation of the federal income tax, as well as the Depression and World War II. But the death knell was struck in October 1947, when Mount Desert Island suffered a massive forest fire. The fire swept through “Millionaire’s Row” on Frenchman’s Bay, destroying 67 palatial summer estates and ultimately burning 17,188 acres, 10,000 of which were in Acadia National Park.

*Cleveland Museum of Art
*W.H. Sherman, Sherman’s Bar Harbor Guide, Business Directory, and Reference Book, 1890. Available on GoogleBooks.
*Photos of cottages from “Cottages of Mount Desert Island,”


A Victorian Era Time Capsule

Two weeks ago my family and I wandered westward for a family reunion and to visit some of my husband’s childhood haunts. On the way there my husband suddenly turned off the road into the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Turns out he spent many happy hours exploring there when he was a kid, and when he saw the entrance he impulsively decided to stop to see how it had changed in the last 40 years.

The Missouri River

It was a fortuitous detour, at least for this history geek, because on the land owned by the Refuge, the wreck of a steamboat rested in the mud for 100 years.

On March 18, 1865, the Steamboat Bertrand set off down (up?) the Missouri River from St. Louis, Missouri for the newly discovered gold fields in Fort Benton, Montana Territory. It carried 250,000 pounds of cargo as well as many passengers.

On April 1, 1865, the ship hit a submerged log on the treacherous Desoto Bend of the Missouri River, about 25 miles upstream from Omaha, Nebraska, ripping a hole in the ship’s hull bottom. It sank in 12 feet of water in under ten minutes. Although all the passengers were saved, almost all of its cargo was lost. The Bertrand joined over 400 boats that sank on the Missouri during the steamboat era.

The ship sank into the mud and stayed there until 1967, when the search for the wreck began, spurred on in part by the fact that the Bertrand was reputed to be carrying 30,000 pounds of mercury, which was to be used in mining operations in Montana. The excavation was completed in 1969, and all artifacts were turned over to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Crate filled with indigo

Most of the cargo was held in crates, barrels, and burlap sacks, which were almost immediately covered with thick clay, thus preserving it. When the wreck was discovered the cargo was in nearly the same pristine condition it had been when the vessel sank a century before. For a writer whose time period is the 1860s, it was a treasure trove indeed.

There is SO MUCH stuff they don’t have all of it on display, but there is enough to give you an excellent idea of what people wore, what kinds of things they used for cooking, working, playing, and relaxing. Some of my favorites are posted below. I apologize for the picture quality–all I had was my phone, and I had to be quick because the battery was dying. . .

This shows how the Missouri River has moved since the sinking. 
A passenger’s account of the sinking. 
A silk overcoat belonging to Annie or Fannie Campbell
Lice combs, as well as combs made of rubber.

Bottles of French champagne and brandied cherries. 

Ironstone pottery from England and glassware.
The second shelf holds tins of powdered yeast.

From top left, counter clockwise: Yeast powder, nuts,
lemonade cans and flavoring, and what look like gold bars but aren’t. . . 

Candle holders, a griddle that looks very like the one I have,
irons, fireplace tools, and salt cellars. 

The top shelf holds a lady’s shawl, and the bottom holds men’s ties.
I think. I neglected to photograph the identifying card.
Socks and boots.

Sorry, this pic is particularly bad, but it
explains the munitions that were found.

There’s an interesting article, with photos from the excavation, at
The Bertrand collection also has a Facebook page, at, with way better photos than the ones I took, including pictures of items not on regular display.

Writing History–Places

Not only is this post a day late because I was at a hockey tournament all day yesterday, but it’s another recycled post from the defunct blog, since I just got back from Florida and my work life is insane. I promise to be more original next time. 


This week I am shoving aside my usual angst to delve into one of my favorite subjects: research. I read and write historicals partly because I am fascinated by history. I was a terrible history student, however, because I was hopeless at remembering dates. Instead, I would get into the story–what did they eat, what kinds of houses did they live in, what did they speak, who were they?

Given this interest, it probably comes as no surprise that I am obsessed with I have used it and other sources to trace one branch of my family tree back to the Norman Invasion, and possibly beyond, although when you go back that far you have to take everything you read with a fairly large grain of salt. In exploring that branch, I came across the website of The National Archives of the United Kingdom, and on a whim, I entered some names into the search engine. I found a story from the early 15th century involving kidnapping, forced marriage (of a 9 year old!), theft and political intrigue, all featuring one of my esteemed–ahem–ancestors at center stage.  It’s so captivating that despite my utter lack of previous interest in the medieval period I am itching to tell it. Eventually.   

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my research with you. If you are interested in British genealogy or inclined to write historical fiction set in Britain, there is a wealth of information (and possibly inspiration) here. If you’re not, it’s just fun to spend some time exploring. I thought I would start with places, and will discuss other sources in future posts. 


I love maps. I read them for fun, and I wish I had more wall space in my office so I could hang more of them. Here are some great sources for historical maps:

Maps and more maps from 1300 to 1922.

The Gough Map of Great Britain (also known as The Bodleian Map) is the oldest surviving road map of Britain, dating from around 1360.  The map itself is extremely hard to read, but it is being deciphered by researchers at Oxford University, and thankfully they have put their work online for the rest of us.

Medieval Maps of England and Europe

Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827. is a fabulous source of maps you can purchase, dating from 1843 to 1996. has reasonably priced maps for purchase, from the Victorian period.  They also have maps of Roman Britain.  They do not, apparently, ship to the United States, although I haven’t yet tried begging.

The Booth Poverty Maps of London from 1898/99, with a modern map of London for comparison.   This site is truly fascinating; it gives you a wonderful feel of neighborhoods and their character. 

The National Archives purports to have over 6 million maps in its collection. 

Another great source for maps is British History Online

(Credit for links to the Victorian maps goes to Beth Henderson, who teaches an online workshop on Victorian and Edwardian history, as well as many others. If you ever get a chance to take one of her classes, do!)   

One last thing, added since I wrote the original post: The Time Travel Explorer app has several different maps of London–1682, 1746, 1799, 1830, 1862, and the present. It currently also have New York maps from 1811, 1836, and 1867.  It’s a bit pricey, but the coolness factor makes it worth every penny. 

Images of Places

I covered some historic homes in another post (I thought about including them in this one, but it got really long), but here are some sources for photos and other images of historic places:

The National Trust is a great source for information on historic places, especially if you have the good fortune to be able to visit them in person.  They also have links to quirky things that might make interesting additions to a novel, like walks with ancient trees and “silly walks” featuring places with crazy names, including the “Kiss me Arse steps” in Cornwall.

Kiss Me Arse Steps, Cornwall.
Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons license.

Another interesting site to browse is Geograph Britain and Ireland, which aims eventually to have photographs of every grid square of Britain and Ireland. A lot of them are remarkably unattractive photos of highway overpasses, but there are a few historic gems too.

The English Heritage website has hundreds of thousands of photographs of English places, including detailed architectural photos and some period photos from the 1850s.

Naturally over the last few centuries the names of places have changed. A good resource is the  Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names, by Anthony David Mills (Oxford University Press, 2003).  (There is also a Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, published in 2011, if you prefer that august institution.)

There is an astonishing amount of information available, once you start looking.  And so I leave you with one of my favorite places in Britain to inspire you:

Durham Cathedral.  Source:

Until next time, happy exploring.


Weather and Other Curiosities

This is a recycled, and late (sorry), post from a group blog that is now defunct. But recycling is good for the planet, and it’s too damn cold to think of anything but how I wish I was somewhere where my car didn’t get stuck in the driveway, where I could venture outside without Arctic outerwear, and where my heating bill didn’t creep into four figures.


As a native Clevelander, weather is often on my mind; when I haven’t considered the weather before venturing out, I usually regret it.  Sometimes it’s gorgeous, other times not so much, but it is ever-changing. Anyway, it got me thinking about where one might find information on such things in history:  weather, what the headline in the newspaper was, what was playing at Drury Lane, what people did for fun. So, this hodge-podge post offers a few, hopefully interesting, tidbits on random stuff I have been thinking about.


Frost Fair on the Thames, 1841

For some of you, this may be old news, but bear with me, as I am often the last to know anything.  Did you know that there was a “Little Ice Age” in Britain that lasted over 400 years, and didn’t end until the 19th century?  The Thames froze so thick that it was common to have Frost Fairs on the river during the winter months.   Google “Frost Fairs” and you will find a number of pictures and articles.  The last frost fair was held in 1841; this picture of that event is courtesy of the Daily Mail.

You can find data on average temperature (1659 forward) and precipitation (1766 forward) in England on the website of the Royal Meterological Society.  

This site has interesting descriptions of English winters from the 17th century to the present day.  For example, 1816 was the year without a summer, and on Christmas day in 1836, snow accumulated up to 15 feet, with drifts of up to 50 feet!

That last site refers to a volcanic eruption having an impact on English weather, not unlike the eruption that we all remember from 2010.  Thinking about this made me wonder about historical weather events outside of England that may have had an impact, such as this 18th century volcanic eruption in Iceland.  


The first issue of The Times, 1788

Although news was not instantaneous in the 18th and 19th centuries, as it is today, newspapers nevertheless played an important role in daily life, and can offer a wealth of information, including, of course, what was playing at Drury Lane (on December 4, 1788, it was Mr. Kemble in Rule a Wife, and Have a Wife).
The British Library offers online access to British newspapers from 1800 to the present day.   An article on the British Library website reports the following: “In 1800, four main daily newspapers were being published in London, of roughly equal importance: the Morning Post; the Morning Chronicle; the Morning Herald and The Times.”  

Access to the British Library collection is by subscription, although it is free if you are affiliated with a subscribing institution, such as a British university.  Another interesting summary of British newspapers is available at  There are some newspapers available at the National Archives, and you can also find a number of periodicals on GoogleBooks–for reasons which escape me, there is particularly good coverage of the Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, with marvelously titled articles like “Wild Birds, Useful and Injurious (With Seven Illustrations)” and “Marigolds Running to Seed.”

This site offers access to a few 18th century journals for free:; and this one offers links to a number of other sites, including German, French, Dutch and other European papers:   You can find information on Canadian newspapers at  



Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1842

Much is made of theatre in period literature and in historical fiction.  It was an amusing diversion both for the rich and those less well-off, and for the former, it was a place to see and be seen.

This is an interesting article on the business of nineteenth century theatre and its personalities:  This article offers facts on the individual theatres:  Some tidbits: The Adelphi was the first theatre to feature adaptations of the novels of Charles Dickens; the first female theatre manager in London was Eliza Vestris, who managed the Olympic Theatre in 1830; the celebrated actor Edmund Kean made his Drury Lane debut in 1814 as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.


Vauxhall Gardens by Samuel Wale, c1751

What post on historical English curiosities could be without a note on Vauxhall Gardens? They were the celebrated “pleasure gardens” which feature rather heavily in historical romance novels, with heavily wooded paths and secluded arbors just perfect for trysting aristocrats.  Vauxhall closed in 1859–for reasons which will surprise no one, it wasn’t as popular after Victoria took the throne–but during the decadent Regency period it was simply the place to be. There is a marvelous description of Vauxhall from 1760 by Goldsmith, in Curiosities of London: Exhibiting the Most Rare and Remarkable Objects of Interest in the Metropolis; With Nearly Fifty Years’ Personal Reflections, by John Timbs (p. 747, available on GoogleBooks):

“The illuminations began before we arrived; and I must confess that upon entering the Gardens I found every sense overpaid with more than expected pleasure: the lights every where glimmering through scarcely moving trees; the full-bodied concert bursting on the stillness of night; the natural concert of the birds in the more retired part of the grove, vieing with that which was formed by art; the company gaily dressed, looking satisfied, and the tables spread with various delicacies,–all conspired to fill my imagination with the visionary happiness of the Arabian lawgiver, and lifted me into an ecstasy of admiration.”  

As I can’t possibly top that, I bid you adieu until next time,


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