I have lots to do today. I should be reading, writing, editing and getting geared up to promote my soon-to-be-released ‘The Beaumont Betrothal’. But it’s a rare sunny day and I’ve found myself mooching around my little house, adjusting a cushion here, flicking a duster there and shaking the odd rug. I can’t call it ‘housework’ – more like diversional therapy!
But appreciating the space where I live has reminded me of all the things that make my house a home. I’ve moved several times over the years and there’s always been a decluttering of sorts, but some things go from house to house and it’s not until they’re in place, that the new space begins to feel like ‘home’.
The old sewing table is kind of ugly but I love it. It looks to me as if it was hand-crafted by some resourceful husband back in the day when most of what you needed, needed to be made by hand. I like to think it was a loving hand and made for a loved partner. The Bentwood chair isn’t very comfortable to sit on but it fits nicely under the table and looks as if that’s where it belongs, although I do move it around the house from time to time.
I love these little pots joined at the rim. I use them from time to time, but more likely for hummus or relish than the jam or marmalade they were probably designed for. I have numerous little jugs and dishes that have come with me over the years with new pieces being added occasionally. I’m especially fond of ferreting out bits of pottery from charity shops.
This wooden apple was made from a tall pine tree that used to grow alongside the post office where my great-grandfather was postmaster. I gave the apple to my mother for a gift many years ago and now that Mum has passed on, the piece of wooden fruit sits on my shelves and I am so happy to have it there.
This limited edition print by Richard Wardle is very special to me. The picture was used on the cover of Rosamund Pilcher’s novel, ‘The Shell Seekers’ and I won it, along with a copy of ‘The Shell Seekers’ and a cash prize, for gaining first place in a nation-wide short story competition. Winning this competition gave me the encouragement to believe in myself as a writer. Subsequently, I had other short stories published along with children’s literature, and later I began to focus on writing romance.
There are many other items in my home that are truly special to me, and I’ll bet you too have treasures that you would not part with. I’d love to hear about them!
Readers in the Northern Hemisphere will be looking forward to warmer days, but here in the Southern Hemisphere, winter’s nipping at our heels. On a chillier-than-usual morning this week, I spent far longer in the shower than I should have. I did consider the electricity bill climbing as I enjoyed hot water splashing over my shoulders, but decided I could call my shower research, as I thought about bathing before we had hot water on tap. I could also call it therapy because the needles of hot water were doing wonders for my computer-cricked neck!
I lived in a rural area for 20-odd years, where we relied on rain for our water supply. At the end of most summers, we had to buy water in by the tank-load – and it wasn’t cheap. Not to mention the nine months or so I lived in a caravan near a forest where water had to be bucketed up from a nearby creek and carefully rationed. The water was heated on a small gas stove and we washed all over using a plastic basin set in the awning attached to the caravan. With those experiences behind me, I still see running water as a luxury and have never lost my appreciation for fresh, clean water arriving at the turn of a tap.
By the early 19th Century, bathing was on the cusp of change. Washing oneself all over regularly as opposed to once every few weeks (or months) gained credit not only for hygiene (a relatively new concept), but also as an activity that was beneficial for one’s health. I was surprised to discover quite sophisticated bathing apparatus had been invented by the early 1800s. The third Earl of Hardwicke enjoyed a plunge pool designed by Sir John Sloane, which held 2,199 gallons of water heated by a boiler in the basement. A Regency shower featured a pump that lifted water from a tank at the bottom of the structure to a basin at the top. The bather pulled a chain to pour water over her/himself.
Ladies and gentlemen of means during the Regency and before would have enjoyed bathing in water brought to them by servants. Their bath may have been scented with flowers, oils, perfumes or herbs. It sounds romantic, and perhaps it was for the bathers, but hard work for the people who had to lug all that water upstairs and then dispose of it when the bath was over. Poorer people were more likely to have washed in the kitchen and the water used by the whole family before being poured away – most likely directly into the street.
Artists throughout history have depicted bathers in both private, intimate surroundings and in public baths. The Impressionists often featured Eastern, harem and Turkish bath scenes, painted from imagination because men would not generally have been allowed access to Islamic women.
I’m afraid it’s just not possible to include all available information about bathing through the ages in this post but do explore some of the online links for greater insight.
I discovered soap-making a few years ago. I love whipping up a batch using lye (caustic soda), natural oils and essences but I’m certain it’s much easier for me than it was for people earlier in history. Soap-making has been around for a long time. The Babylonians were making soap with ashes mixed with fats way back around 2,800BC while the Phoenicians used goats tallow and wood ashes and soap was widely known in the Roman Empire.
By Victorian times, soap was being mass-produced, with bathing soap manufactured as a separate product from laundry soap. In today’s world, soap is made for a multitude of purposes including washing carpets, pets, cars, and children. I make it because it gives me pleasure and a rough-cut bar or two makes a special gift for friends or family. I use lavender oil for scent and haven’t experimented or veered from this recipe because it gives me a good result every time.
I’m not sure if this blog post turned out as I intended. I may have to explore this fascinating subject again before too long!
I’d almost insisted (I can be stubborn!) that writing should be a lonely job – a-starving-artist-in-the-garret kind of job. Yes, I’d joined Romance Writers of NZ a number of years ago and enjoyed regular meetings of our local chapter. I’d attended two or three writing retreats with a few writing pals, but the act of writing I saw as being something I needed to do alone.
Well, thanks to some awesome happenings this year, I’ve had a bit of a turnaround! First up, was a writing retreat in the country where a fellow author was housesitting. Seven of us gathered over a period of two or three days, some staying for shorter or longer periods depending on those pesky other commitments that are integral to our writing lives. Ranging in age from 30s to 70s the individuals in our group made an interesting mixture – a zoologist researching animal behaviour, an investigator with an extensive background in high-level police work, a Bowen therapist-in-training, a tertiary teacher, a retired primary school teacher, a couple of administrators – but we had all also worked in other fields throughout our lives. One of us had owned an antique shop, one had founded and operated a niche magazine, one had farmed a beef and cattle station deep in the heartland of New Zealand, one was elite in martial arts. We had rural and/or urban backgrounds; we were divorced, married, single, partnered with-or-without children, traveled extensively or stayed close to home. What a wealth of experience we had to share! And a magnificent dining table to share conversations over the meals to which we all contributed. And the conversations? Mostly about writing – so many aspects of writing! We weren’t all writing novels and we weren’t all working within the same genre. Goal-setting, planning, social media, websites, and job applications were all thrown into the mix and if we wanted to share, or needed advice or information, it was on tap for everyone. If you wanted to find a comfy chair in a corner and read all day, that was fine too.
Then I decided, almost on impulse (which is unusual for me) to sign up for the SPA Girls self-publishing workshop. I was so impressed by what Cheryl Phipps, Shar Barratt, Trudi Jaye, and Wendy Vella had achieved by pooling their skills and experience, sharing their ups and downs, inspiring each other, learning, and growing their writing careers as individuals within a collaborative group. As well as the workshop itself, I traveled with two other writers and the conversations we had along the way, the characterization exercise we worked on back at the motel, and the companionship and laughter we shared were uplifting. Plus, dinner at the nearby Thai restaurant was exceptionally delicious!
More recently I’ve had fun working with a couple of authors who also write Regency Romance. Jen Yates (you really must read her raunchy Regencies – Jen YatesNZ) came to stay with me for a couple of days and we talked cover design, which is something I’ve become interested in now that I’ve decided to mostly self-publish. This weekend we were joined by Caroline Bagshaw whose upcoming Regencies are set in Scotland, Caroline’s country of origin.
Yes, the act writing itself – fingers on keyboard, pen in hand, or voice-recording – are activities that probably need to be done alone, but sharing ideas, brainstorming or asking questions of someone who truly understands why you want to know this peculiar kind-of-weird detail is truly rewarding.
The companionship of other writers, fresh perspectives and new ideas not only helps me grow as a writer but enriches my life in ways that are immeasurable. Pricking the little bubble of my solitary writing world has set me free.
I think we can guarantee most of the items in the Regency Lady’s bedchamber would have been fashioned by hand. The little candlestick bases, jewelry-bowl cover, and hairbrush in the photograph certainly don’t date from that period, but perhaps they are similar to those found on a lady’s dressing table in the early 19th Century (except for the protective plastic covers of course!). Hand-worked cloths would have been the norm and perhaps a vase of flowers or pot-pouri to freshen the air.
On the chair beside the dressing table is a paisley shawl ready to be draped across the lady’s shoulders when the air grew chill. Genuine Kashmir shawls with their beautiful patterns, were prized additions to the Regency lady’s wardrobe and a light, practical accessory to add warmth whether inside or out-of-doors. I bought my light wool shawl on a visit to India and often throw it around my shoulders on chilly evenings.
There may have been an ivory fan, a pair of kid gloves and a reticule waiting to be gathered up for the evening. Perhaps a silver box of calling cards, or an enamel container for trinkets. Satin ribbons, combs and jewellery would have adorned the simple hairstyles favoured in Regency times.
The photographs show some of my ‘treasures’, things that are special to me and inspire me to imagine a woman’s life in earlier times when hours would have been spent needle-in-hand making decorative items, mending or sewing all manner of garments by hand. I have many embroidered cloths that I don’t use but would never part with! Do you have similar treasures? Things that are particularly meaningful to you?
I started out the day reading ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell who owns Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It’s a delightful read and it’s made me think about all the readers and all the books there must be in the world (100,000 in his shop alone). Something must surely have been written about every imaginable topic. According to Bythell, books about railways are his biggest sellers and the railway section in his shop is the one most male customers immediately head for.
I recognise some of the titles he mentions and some of them I’ve read; others caught my attention, especially Any Human Heart which I’ll ask our local second-hand bookseller to track down for me.
When we say “I love to read” it’s somehow taken for granted that we mean novels or non-fiction books that inform us about a person, a place or an historical event among many other subjects. But there are so many other ways we read, without even thinking about it. Although reading appears to be a passive activity, the outcome of losing oneself in a book and scooping up words can be exceptionally productive.
Where would I have been without pattern books when my children were small and I was more involved with crafts – sewing and knitting patterns, crochet, embroidery and sideways slips into macramé and cake decorating, let alone the many I explored without venturing into the activity itself. Whether the project was finished or not, so much learning and hours of enjoyment and productivity resulted from being able to read and comprehend instructions, not only in books but in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, leaflets, mail-outs, advertising blurbs and even packaging materials.
I’ve probably spent weeks, maybe months throughout my adult life poring over recipe books and magazines. Sure, I haven’t cooked every recipe I’ve ever read and some days I’ve spent so long looking at recipes time’s run out to cook dinner and it’s been takeaways for tea; but some recipes have been standouts and remain on the menu thirty years or so after I first prepared and cooked the dish. Reading recipe books has helped me learn about other countries, cultures and traditions, introduced me to new ingredients and allowed me to feed the family on a budget, offer hospitality, be adventurous and experiment without even venturing beyond my front door.
So I began this wintry day reading ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ in bed with rain hammering on the roof and the temperature not expected to rise above 12 degrees. After a while I reluctantly decided I really should get myself out from underneath my cosy bedcovers and do something useful. Looking for something to read while I ate my late breakfast (and not wanting to get butter and jam on Blythe’s book which had been loaned to me) I took one of Jo Seagar’s earlier recipe books from the shelf under the kitchen bench and ended up making beer bread (delicious with butter and honey) and a boysenberry cheesecake. Recipe books are useful if you want to read at mealtimes because it doesn’t matter too much if you smear the pages with food.
So, like many other days, today has once again revolved around reading, writing and ‘doing’. How lucky I am – being able to read has enriched my life in ways that cannot be measured. Have you found the same?
Writing is a solitary occupation and for a long time, when I lived in the country, I didn’t know any other writers. I barely knew I was a writer. Then I wrote a short story that won a national competition. I began to take my scribbling a little more seriously and joined a local writers group. Although I eventually outgrew that group, I learned a lot, enjoyed the experience of having other work published, and it was inspiring and interesting to be in the company of people who didn’t think writing was a kind of weird thing to do.
I began to focus on writing romance and went to a couple of weekend workshops with Daphne Clair and Robyn Donald, two multi-published authors who were willing to share the knowledge they’d gained through years of hard work and commitment to their craft. As a result of attending these retreats I discovered Romance Writers of New Zealand (RWNZ) and joined up.
I’ve learned so much from being a member of this professional writers’ organisation where members range from nervous newbies to multi-published authors and many other writers at various stages of their journeys. Wherever we are along the writers’ path, we all learn something from each other.
The core RWNZ body is separated into chapters and I belong to the Coast-to-Coast group (C2C), so named because the group includes members from the central part of the North Island and from one coastline to the other in that area (you can never be far from a coastline in New Zealand!). Through C2C I’ve met some wonderful people and forged friendships that are truly special to me. This week I’m going to introduce you to one of these special people.
Jen Yates lives in rural New Zealand and says Romance has always been her genre of choice – the sexier the better! Jen’s work encompasses both contemporary and historical romance but she says her author’s heart lies with Regency. Her latest Regency Romance ‘Her Dark Lord’ is the last novel in her Lords of the Matrix Club series. Other novels in the series are: The Earl of Windermere Takes a Wife The Perfect Duchess and The Virgin Widow.
A Permafree Prequel and Sequel to the series is also available on Amazon, although Jen says you might want to hold off reading the sequel until you’ve read the last of the series-it’s a peek into the characters’ lives 50 years on. A word of warning-if sweet romance is your preference, ‘Her Dark Lord’ and the three preceding novels in Jen’s Lords of the Matrix Club series are probably not for you!
But if you’re a Regency fan and enjoy what Jen calls ‘Romantica’ – sexy romance with elements of erotica, I do hope you’ll click on one of the links. Allow yourself to be transported back in time to the early 19th Century, to that sparkling era of exquisite style known as the Regency.
Recently my daughter lent me her copy of The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Blythell, who owns The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s National Book Town. I’d never heard of Wigtown—a whole town dedicated to second-hand bookshops. Not only that, Wigtown lies on the edge of the sea, the area around is steeped in history, and even more beguiling, the climate is said to be mild. It certainly looks lovely and sunny in the online pics, and I won’t let my pessimist-person chip in and tell me that photographs—especially those depicting holiday destinations—can be deceiving. Imagine staying in a town dedicated to second-hand books in a B&B above The Open Book, a second-hand bookshop by the sea! I am talked into it already. Apparently, there’s a waiting list of 18 months or so, so I would have to plan ahead—not something I’m especially good at!
But travelling to the other side of the globe requires a loaded wallet, so I’d need a little more justification than one small town full of books. Curiosity and an idle hour or two prompted me to search for other places dedicated to books. I found Hay-on-Wye tucked into the Welsh side of the border between England and Wales, “famous for its second-hand and antiquarian bookshops”. Maybe I could stay at the Baskerville Hall Hotel—although the climb to get into the bed pictured in their online info would probably leave me too exhausted to read!
And then reason prevailed. Instead of travelling all the way to the other side of the world (although I’m not counting it out altogether) I could probably trip around my own country and find some great second-hand bookshops right here in Aotearoa/New Zealand – just a day-trip away. Indeed, we have an excellent shop in my own town not much more than a five-minute drive from home. Check out Atlantis Books. I’ve picked up some wonderful buys from Atlantis without needing to spend a fortune. Even if I don’t come away with anything, browsing the shelves, or sitting on the sofas leafing through possibilities can use up endless amounts of time.
I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s writing spaces but setting aside a dedicated space for myself seems beyond me. When we first bought our little house, I thought one of the two tiny mezzanines would make the perfect writing space—in fact, these dinky lofts clinched the decision to purchase the property.
I’ve clearly been deluding myself all these years; I thought I was a practical person. It didn’t occur to me that clambering up a steep ladder and hoisting myself over the rim might be more than I was capable of—let alone the precarious descent, or the tricky operations involved to haul a desk, chair and other paraphernalia up there, especially for someone afraid of the lowest heights! The Juliet balconies seemed well-suited to a romance writer, but they’re a bit dainty for a sturdy woman like myself, although the ladder rungs make handy bookshelves.
So then I decided the wide window overlooking a narrow garden border would be perfect, light and sunny with plenty of room. But it was too light and sunny! I found the wide window too bright to work in front of for extended periods.
There are not a lot of options here, but a corner of the spare bedroom worked well during the summer and I love working at the hand-hewn sewing table inherited from a great-aunt. As soon as the weather cooled down however, it became too dark and uncomfortable to work in that particular corner. I often write from our two-seater sofa; I fit there quite snugly with a cushion at my back and my feet against the opposite arm although it requires a bit of dexterity to reach behind me for coffee and snacks. Depending on the weather I’ve worked outside but I rarely work at the dining table which is probably the most obvious space in the house!
Sometimes on weekends or days off from my regular job, especially when the weather’s dull and gloomy, I write in bed, but I’ve always been an early riser and staying in bed for half the day just doesn’t feel right – even though I’m essentially working. I must admit on cold, rainy days staying warm and cosy in my PJs with a coffee at my elbow and a favourite throw over my knees seems the perfect option.
I’ve tried writing at our local library and that worked quite well but I can’t see myself writing in a café because noise disturbs me. I think my key requirement is not necessarily isolation – in fact I don’t like being isolated from the rest of the household, but quiet is essential. I don’t mind where I am so long as there’s an absence of noise—not easy when you live with a TV-loving chatterbox!
My writing space tends to be a moveable feast so I was interested to read psychologist Marc Wilson’s column in a recent copy of the NZ Listener that mixing up your venues is not such a bad thing – it teaches you to write anywhere.
According to Mind Tools around 95% of us procrastinate to some degree. That makes me feel better! It’s also comforting to learn, in the same article, that procrastination isn’t laziness. Why? Because when we procrastinate, we choose to do something else. Laziness, on the other hand ‘suggests apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act’. When we procrastinate, we’re not inactive; we’re simply more likely to choose to do something easier and more enjoyable instead of a more difficult or unpleasant task we’re doing our best to avoid.
Having recently written ‘the end’ on the last page of a 71,000-word Regency Romance (a project that’s taken several years) I determined to write the detailed synopsis required by The Wild Rose Press by the end of the week. And here I am on Sunday morning procrastinating writing the synopsis by writing-about-procrastinating-writing-the synopsis! That’s a bit extreme…
So what have I done this week that could be defined as procrastination? My away-from-home job doesn’t count because that’s a commitment to my employers and to keeping the wolf from the door – after all, luxuries like bread, milk and electricity must be paid for.
Did I have to buy a copy of Your Home & Garden magazine? Well, no, but I find few things more relaxing than paging through a beautiful magazine packed with gorgeous furnishings and styling ideas. And relaxing’s good for us, right? Hankering after things we might not be able to afford but find pleasure in anyway, keeps our hopes up. And hopefulness is surely a positive quality.
Did I have to spend… mmm… not sure how long on Facebook? According to the ‘experts’ interacting with others is good for us. Especially for those of us with a tendency towards hermit-ishness, Facebook presents the ideal solution of being involved without actually having to speak to someone.
Then there was the afternoon tea with my daughter and an old friend, going to see The Bookshop with my daughter – that kind of thing’s essential for our mental and emotional health, right? The ‘experts’ are always telling us that spending time with friends and family is crucial to our wellbeing. Likewise spending time with grandchildren. Plus food and drink is sustenance for the hard slog of writing.
Shopping can’t be considered procrastination because we need food and drink (as noted above) and clothing, and of course every writer needs books, so trawling through libraries, second-hand bookshops like Atlantis Books, and book fairs is actually work for writers.
Everyone knows spending time as a couple is crucial for loving relationships so spending Saturday morning eating at the market and browsing in above-mentioned book places can’t be procrastination. Talking to pets (and petting pets) is likewise beneficial to our mental and emotional health and wellbeing – and for theirs too, I imagine, so if it is procrastination, it’s procrastination for a worthy cause.
Then there are the things like cooking, laundry, dish-washing, picking-things-up-off-the-floor, sweeping clutter off tables (which you have to do before you can start work), wiping benches – they’re kind of essential so can’t be considered procrastination.
One task I wish I could have procrastinated entirely this week was cleaning dog poo out of the car after one of the grandkids stepped in muck on our way out the other evening….and that just couldn’t be procrastinated!
Looking back over my week, I’m not so sure I’m as bad a procrastinator as I thought. It’s just been another week of living life!
Writing is hard work for a writer, but I find research totally absorbing – almost too much so. It’s very easy for me to trip from fact to fact, often ending up with an entirely different set of information than I set out to unearth. Suddenly the day’s over and my time’s run out for the writing I planned to do that morning!
There are times when I think information in the 21st Century is like a plague of words. We just can’t get away from them and it can be difficult to be selective when there’s so much tantalising stuff to distract from our core purpose. Key a few words into any online search engine and you’re likely to be confronted with hundreds of research choices.
But authenticity is important to me and I employ various methods of research. One of my key resources for researching the Regency period is ‘Georgette Heyer’s Regency World’ by Jennifer Kloester. I had the pleasure of listening to Jennifer speak at the 2017 RWNZ conference. Most of Georgette Heyer’s novels are as familiar to me as the nursery rhymes I learnt as a child.
I use both extensively and generally like to verify facts through several sources, particularly if I’ve discovered the information online. I’m a keen reader, frequently visiting our excellent library and making good use of book fairs, markets and second-hand book stores as well as downloading Kindle books I’m likely to use more than once. I Iove reading magazines and picture books and have found these are the most effective resources when I’m researching places like gardens, woodlands and historic homes.
Despite the care I take when researching, I do get things wrong from time to time and here’s where my Beta Readers fill the gap! I’m fortunate to live near talented author Poppy Mann who is a history buff and has studied art history and the history of fashion design. Poppy has enlightened me more than once when I’ve got my facts wrong – once I had the wrong queen married to the right king!
Jen Yates writes fantastic sexy Regency Romance and her contribution to my research has been so helpful. My English friend Vicky hones in on expressions or facts that might be out of kilter in the English setting of my Regencies.
I’ve been fortunate to visit some historic places in England and this has allowed me to grasp the antiquity and the scale of the spaces inhabited by people in that world. Visits to museums and art galleries add to my store of knowledge, as do period television dramas and movies set in that era.
There are infinite aspects to research, for example: clothing, speech, food, housing, transport, landscape and the natural world; shopping, diseases, health, medicines and treatment, keeping a household or conveying messages. These must then be broken down into the components needed for a particular piece of work: how long might it take to travel from A to B – by ship, carriage (what kind of ship or carriage); cart, horse or foot; fabrics (no denim or zips in those days!) and protocol among and within various layers of society.
Research can’t be restricted only to the Regency period; like all of us, the characters who people my books had parents, grandparents, ancestors and events that influence their lives. And there are many more details to be considered, used or discarded – so easy to spend far too much time on research and too little on writing!