Friday, August 26, 2016

High Capability, Mr. Brown

[First, congratulations to Dawn Pearson, who won the three autographed books from last week. Many of you guessed here and on Facebook. The answer to the question as to the actor I had in mind as my physical model for Simon Wallin in the upcoming A Convenient Christmas Wedding was a young Val Kilmer. Thanks for commenting, all!]

August 30 marks the 300 year anniversary of the birth of an extraordinary man, for whom we can credit much of the landscape of 18th and 19th century English estates. That man was Capability Brown. Suitable name for a fellow who specialized in landscaping, don’t you think?

His first name, however, was actually Lancelot. Capability was his nickname, possibly because he is quoted as having said that his landscapes had great capabilities. Born in 1716 in Northumberland, to a father who was a land agent and a mother who worked in the great house of Kirkharle, where he first apprenticed and then became a gardener when he was 23. After a few other assignments on various estates, he moved to the great house at Stowe, where he tutored under the landscape master William Kent and was given greater and greater responsibility for the landscape and architecture. He would go into business for himself and ultimately serve as Master Gardener for George III at Hampton Court.

Brown had a simple idea for his landscapes—combine elegance with comfort. Ornamental ponds were placed so as to resemble a natural river winding through the estate. Buildings were tucked in around plants and not the other way around. Some say his work was underappreciated because it so closely resembled nature that no one knew how hard he’d worked to achieve the effect!

Whether he simply provided plans for the landowner to follow, sent a foreman to make sure the work was done to his specifications, or oversaw the work himself, Brown contributed to more than 260 projects during his lifetime. Nearly 60% of those projects are still in place today.

Brown himself did not do well financially, alas. It seems he sometimes allowed his clients to determine what his work was worth, occasionally earning less than he would have been paid otherwise. He died when he was only 66, collapsing from his work.

But he certainly left his mark on the English landscape. Not surprisingly, a number of locations are celebrating his 300th birthday. For more information, try

The Capability Brown Festival, managed by the Landscape Institute 

National Trust links to sites celebrating the anniversary 

Blenheim Palace Festival site 

Harewood festival site 

All I can say is that when it comes to gardening, there’s very little capability and a whole lot of brown at my house.

And speaking of houses, Marissa and I sticking around our houses on vacation next week leading up to Labor Day weekend. But I'll be back right after Labor Day to celebrate the launch of A Rancher of Convenience. :-)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Blast from the Past: Mr. Pocock Rides Again (Sort of) (Again)

I still need to figure out a way to incorporate the Charvolant into a story...

It’s amazing what you can find when you clean out a bookcase.

Recently my mother was doing just that, and found an old issue of Heritage, the British history magazine, from February/March 1990. Naturally she saved it for me so that I could put it in my overburdened bookshelves...and while flipping through it, I ran across an article entitled “Pocock’s Flying Carriage”. The story was wonderful, and the name was familiar. Hmm, yes, we have met a Mr. Pocock before, haven't we...however, it seems to have been a different Mr. P.

That Mr. Pocock (William) was, it seems, a London furniture-maker and known for his interest in patent furniture—designs that involved clever, ingenious mechanizations as we saw with his Reclining Patent Chair. Perhaps there’s something to the name that dooms its bearers to be inveterate tinkerers, because another Mr. Pocock, this time a George, was inventing at the same time...and went far beyond furniture. You see, that Mr. Pocock was the proud inventor, in the 1820s, of the Charvolant, or Flying Car.

George P. (1774-1843) was a schoolmaster in Bristol who liked to invent things on the side. One of his inventions, a spanking machine (the “Royal Patent Self-acting Ferule”) which could punish several misbehaving schoolboys at once, had something to do with his teaching vocation (I wish I could find a picture of it!)...but evidently, Mr. Pocock was also fascinated by kites. He spent his youth experimenting with the power of kites, and induced a trusting friend to squat on a makeshift sled attached to kites. The friend ended up dragged away faster than George could follow on foot and was eventually tumbled into a quarry (uninjured, fortunately) but young George was even more hooked by kite power.

More experimentation followed, fortunately with no fatalities—that included launching his own daughter 300 feet into the air in a kite-drawn chair. Of course, you knew what would come next: kite-powered carriages. He spent several years working on his Charvolants, and finally in 1826 registered a patent. In 1828 he demonstrated a Charvolant at Ascot to King George IV, and was soon running demonstration races, beating the London coach in a race from Bristol to Marlborough by twenty-five minutes (after giving the coach a 15 minute head-start.) His Charvolant could travel as fast as twenty miles per hour, and the ride was much smoother and quieter than a horse-drawn vehicle—in fact, a Charvolant driver blew a bugle to warn vehicles it was overtaking, because of its quietness.

Charvolant travel was also much cheaper than travel utilizing horses: wind was free, after all, while horses were expensive to maintain and had to be changed on journeys of more than fifteen to twenty miles. And, amusingly, Charvolants could travel the turnpikes free. Tolls were charged at toll-gates based on the number of animals drawing any given vehicle...and Charvolants were notably draft-animal free. Though critics scoffed that a Charvolant would be grounded on a windless day, Mr. Pocock remained unruffled and replied, “Ships might be objected to on this principle—that there were sometimes calms, or contrary winds.”

Alas for Mr. Pocock, though, his timing was bad. Despite the interest his Charvolants generated, another new mode of transportation generated even more interest and would soon doom the Charvolant to a sidenote in transportation history: the railway.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cover Reveal: A Convenient Christmas Wedding and a Guest

You know, getting a book’s tone and feel right has to be a daunting challenge for any artist, but especially for the artists of the Love Inspired lines. How many daring cowboys, Amish brides, and Regency lords can you draw and still keep things original and fresh? Yet, I am continually impressed by how they take an author’s jumbled ramblings about her heroine’s raven tresses and her hero’s manly chin and come up with something that captures the story.

Such is the case with my upcoming release, A Convenient Christmas Wedding (November 2016). This is the fifth book in my Frontier Bachelor series. Set during December 1866 in pioneer Seattle, the story follows Simon Wallin, second son of the logging family introduced in Would-Be Wilderness Wife, and Nora Underhill, the seamstress who befriends Maddie O’Rourke in Instant Frontier Family. But just as the artists got the tone right on the cover, so did my editor nail the book in the blurb:

Proposing a marriage of convenience to a rugged logger is the boldest move of Nora Underhill’s sheltered life. In return for Simon Wallin’s protection from her overbearing family, the unassuming seamstress offers prime frontier farmland. But their paper marriage changes when Nora’s greedy brother tries to draw her back into a life of drudgery. Her only option: move to Simon’s farm, and into the center of his loving, unruly family. 

Years of shouldering responsibility have left Simon cynical and reserved. But little by little, Nora’s warmth opens his shuttered heart to joy. With their marriage claim under threat, can this practical arrangement blossom over the holidays…and become a love for all seasons?

As many of you know, I often have an actress or actor in mind when I’m thinking about the physical characteristics of my hero and heroine. The heroine for this one may not be too familiar to some audiences, so I’ll come right out and tell you. It’s Abby Wilde, of Zoey 101 fame. But I encourage you to guess who my provided the physical look for my hero. In fact, if you guess, I’ll enter your name in a drawing next Friday to win a pack of three autographed books: Renee Ryan’s The Marriage Agreement, Louise M. Gouge’s Cowgirl for Keeps, and my Would-Be Wilderness Wife. Don't worry if someone else already made your guess. Just comment to be considered.

So, here are your hints. While he’s not seen as a stud today, in his early career this actor was such a hot Man he should have been put on Ice. He’s wielded a sword as well as a shot gun. Yes, he was a Real Genius back in the day. Want to take a guess?

But wait, there’s more!
I told you a while ago about how covers can evolve over time as readers and seasons change. I’m delighted to report that my first book, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, has been reedited and given a new cover for your reading pleasure. This cover was designed by Kim Killion of The Killion Group. She also did the covers for my Lady Emily Capers. You can find the format you prefer on Smashwords.

I think that about covers it for this week. Looking forward to seeing your comments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Blast from the Past: Toxophilia

In honor of the amazing women from all countries competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio...a reminder that women in sports is not necessarily a completely modern phenomenon...

In these days of Title IX when young women can participate in pretty much any sport they choose, it’s easy to forget that just a hundred years ago, anything much more strenuous than a decorous horseback ride in Rotten Row, a gentle game of tennis or maybe—maybe—a few holes of golf was frowned upon by the medical profession and society alike. Girls, move freely and break a sweat? How un-lady-like!

But there have always been a handful of sports to which young women have been given grudging access…and one of them was archery. Here was a sport at which it was unlikely you might become overheated or over-excited. It was a sport you could do while wearing a corset (in fact, wearing a corset might even help!) And it gave you a chance to order adorable new clothes, like the archery suit from 1829 worn by this young lady at the right.

Archery was a reasonably popular sport in 19th century England, due in no small part to the important role it played in English history. In the middle ages, English bowmen were famed (and feared!) in warfare. English longbows could launch an arrow capable of piercing plate armor, which of course did not make French knights very happy during the Hundred Years' War. Several kings passed laws requiring all able-bodied men over the age of 17 to own a bow and arrows and establishing mandatory weekly shooting practice. This fell by the wayside once firearms became widespread, but interest in archery never died…and indeed, recreational archery enjoyed a resurgence with the foundation of the Royal Toxophilite Society in 1781. Toxophilia (isn’t that a dreadful sounding word?) means “love of archery”, and several prominent members of the nobility became members of the society, most notably the Prince of Wales (who later became Prince Regent and King George IV). They established a permanent clubhouse and shooting range in 1833 in Regent’s Park in London where practices and in-club competitions were held weekly in season…and, unusually for this time, they held an annual Ladies’ Day invitational competition every July with prizes given by the society. Go girls!

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Great Inverness Earthquake of 1816

The earth shakes in many corners of the world, wreaking havoc to homes and infrastructure alike. But the biggest earthquake ever to hit Scotland happened nearly 200 years ago today.

On August 13, 1816, the people of Inverness were mostly abed. It was a calm night. Moonlight filtered down through a misty haze that lay across the fields. At four minutes before 11pm, the ground heaved, for up to 1 minute, according to some reports. Those out in the country reported a sound like a rushing wind. Those in town thought someone was rolling a heavy object along the slate roofs. Slate stones tumbled to the street, chimney caps fell. Those houses with servant bells heard them all ring at once, with some wire jangling so hard it broke. Dogs howled. Chickens screeched. The 45-meter-tall steeple on the new courthouse and prison was twisted perpendicularly on its base. The Mason Lodge cracked from foundation to rooftop.

People, some of them naked, ran out into the street. Women were said to faint. Others screamed. Still others ran and kept running, hiding in the fields until morning. An aftershock at 11:30 only added to the pandemonium.

Historical evidence has led researchers to believe the earthquake was likely 5.1 on the Richter Scale. It was felt for more than 100 square miles. More aftershocks kept rumbling through for the next week.

Miraculously, no one was hurt or injured. The Masons helped villagers repair their chimneys and roofs. When consulted, the architect for the steeple advised leaving it the way it was as a “wonder” to be viewed for generations to come. Publications from the local paper to the Naval Chronicle reported the news. The stories only magnified with time. Later stories reported that the great bell of the town rang twice during the quake.

It seems even earthquakes improve with age.

Steeple photograph © Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Children of George III: The noble Duke of York

Do you remember that rhyme about the noble Duke of York and his ten thousand men, marching up to the top of a hill and marching down again? More about that shortly. ☺

Image result for frederick duke of yorkThe second child and second son of George and Charlotte was born a year and a day after his elder brother George, on August 16, 1763, and unusually for royalty was given just one name—Frederick. The brothers were to remain fast friends their entire lives, and were raised almost as twins and educated by the same tutors; but from an early age young Fred manifested an interest in all things military which would lead his father in 1780 to send the boy off to Germany, to receive a military education from his uncle the Duke of Brunswick, regarded as the finest soldier in Europe. He didn’t return to England until almost seven years had passed, and amazingly, much of the correspondence between him and his family has been reserved, giving us a picture of a young man whose passion for the military was probably somewhat greater than his ability...but who retained a fundamental kindness and sweetness of character despite years of living amongst the less-than-kind-and-sweet royal military caste of the continent.

After a few years of riotous living in England (following in his elder brother’s footsteps once again, much to their father’s dismay) Frederick proposed to a girl he’d met during his years on the continent, Frederica of Prussia, great-niece of Frederick the Great. It wasn't a love match, and the fact that they had no children allowed them to drift apart, but they always remained good and loyal friends and Frederick visited her frequently at the country estate she preferred to live at, Oatlands, where she was able to indulge her extreme fondness for dogs and other animals. Her husband, in the meanwhile, continued his military career; though Frederick tried, he ended up doing poorly not through incompetence but through bad luck and unreliable allies (the “noble Duke of York” rhyme might have come about from his participation in the disastrous Flanders Campaign against France in 1793-94.) A further campaign in 1799, a joint invasion of Holland with the Russians, also ended badly.

Image result for frederick duke of yorkAfter that, Frederick retired to England to take a desk job back home as Commander-in-Chief...and finally came into his own. His bad experiences as a field commander with the woefully undersupplied and inadequately trained British army led him to a program of military infrastructure building: among other things he strongly supported the establishment of the military college at Sandhurst to train officers and encouraged promotion by merit, not birth or wealth. This work made possible the success of the Peninsular Campaign, driving Napoleon out of the Iberian peninsula, and laid the foundation for the future British Empire’s military might.

A scandal in 1809 involving the sale of officers’ commissions by the Duke's mistress Mary Ann Clark, supposedly with his tacit permission—a scandal that seems to have been constructed by poor Fred’s political opponents—led to his resignation as C-in-C, though the uncovering of the plot came to light soon after, and he was reinstated by his brother, now the Prince Regent, in 1811. Fortunately, the rest of his life went on quietly—he did his job, continued to amiably carouse and gamble away vast amounts of money, and remained a fundamentally nice guy. To Prinny’s enormous sadness his favorite brother died in 1827.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Welcome to the Cowboys of Little Horn

They’re here! The cowboys of 1895 Little Horn, Texas, have begun arriving. Renee Ryan’s Stand-In Rancher Daddy (July) introduced readers to 19th century Little Horn, a small town made up of ranchers with big hearts, and now Louise M. Gouge’s A Family for the Rancher takes it one step farther, showing life on a cattle ranch and one dedicated to breeding cattle ponies.

Rancher Edmund McKay likes his life simple and quiet—everything feisty neighbor Lula May Barlow is not! But with a cattle rustler on the loose, he’s duty-bound to protect the widowed mother, even without her approval. Yet he never expected to enjoy her company. And he certainly never thought her crowded, bustling house would be the first place he’d ever feel at home…

After a harsh childhood, Lula May knows how to stand on her own two feet. She doesn’t need Edmund’s help—but she’s starting to want it, all the same. So are her children, who clearly have matchmaking in mind. And when a threat from the past resurfaces, she realizes all that’s at stake…including her chance for a lifetime of love.
If you just can’t wait to learn more about Little Horn, A Rancher of Convenience, this year’s finale by yours truly, from the publisher now in print and ebook or preorder it on Amazon. And we’ll be sure to whoop it up when the book comes out officially in early September.
you can also buy

Because what are cowboys without a hoedown?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Blast from the Past: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

For me as a kid, no summer was complete without a trip to our local amusement park, now sadly razed and turned into a condominium complex. So this Blast from the Past is a slightly bittersweet one...aside from the history geek in me simply loving it!

Isn't this wonderful...not to mention amazing--an early roller coaster! It's from a series of prints entitled "Le Bon Genre", originally published in France in 1817 (a second series came out in 1822 and a third in 1827) as an amusing look at life and entertainment among the fashionable classes in and around Paris. Note the little oil lamps on posts running down the sides--wherever this was, you could evidently ride it at night. I can't help wondering if a lot of ladies lost those wonderfully fluffy ostrich plumes off their hats--you may not be able to see it very well, but the lady half-way down the slide is reaching for hers with an alarmed look on her face. And I wonder if that little girl is about to say "Can we go again? Pleeeeease?" In French, of course.

So much for Six Flags, huh?