Category Archives: research

Lord Byron, the Heyer Walk and Lady Caroline Lamb

Byron c 1813 by Thos Phillips

Byron c 1813 by Thos Phillips

As promised in Sarah’s Byron blog last week, this is Sophie’s take on Byron. Enjoy.

When I studied the Romantic poets in my university English Literature course, Lord Byron was the odd man out. His sensibilities, not to mention his gravitas, didn’t seem in the same class as Wordsworth’s, Keats’s or my beloved Shelley’s.

At that time, I thought that was because of his character and advantages of birth—an aristocrat, an arrogant bad boy, a traveller with a taste for the fleshpots. He was, well, a bit raffish, with a brisk way of discarding emotional attachments. It showed in his poetry. I didn’t like him very much. And I don’t think many of my tutors did either.

The Grand Sophy paperback coverIn Georgette Heyer terms, he was more Sir Montagu Revesby than Augustus Fawnhope.

Or so I thought.

Georgette Heyer Walk

Then, some years ago now, a group of friends and fellow Georgette Heyer Fans were coming to London.

Berry Brothers & Rudd, St James's

Berry Bros & Rudd, St James’s
Philafrenzy Own work CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

To amuse them, I put together a walk round some of the places in Mayfair that she mentions in her Regency novels. (More details in this blog on the wonderful Word Wenches site.)

Lord Byron cropped up no fewer than three times en route. I wasn’t expecting it and, as he only gets a couple of name checks in the Heyer canon, I often leave him out on the Walk itself. But they all told me something about him that surprised me. Continue reading

Lord Byron : what I didn’t know about the man

A few years back I took part in an event at this venue –

Rochdale Town Hall 1909

Okay, not quite that long, perhaps. This is a postcard of Rochdale Town Hall from 1909 and I was there in 2012. However the building is still as impressive as it was at the turn of the 20th century. It has recently undergone a massive restoration project and is well worth a visit, if you are ever in the area.

So why was I there?

I was taking part in a celebration for this man on his 224th birthday.

Lord Byron

It’s Byron. Of course. He was 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale, in case you were wondering about the connection. Continue reading

Escapist romance : must it always be set in Italy or Greece?

woman overlooking seaToday (Friday) I finished reading a romantic novel featuring a heroine who finds love over a summer in Italy. Classic escapist romance. It’s not a genre I read much—more on that later—but this one was from an author I admire and I hadn’t read any of her books for a while.

So it was timely. And I enjoyed the story very much.

There are, as you probably know, loads of books in this genre. But my reading got me thinking and asking questions.

Why are they so popular?
And why are they mostly set in Italy or Greece?
Aren’t there other places for a heroine to find love? Continue reading

Bristol research: Cricket, Cary Grant, Banksy…and Dracula?

It’s not often Cricket, Cary Grant and Dracula come up in the same conversation. Oh, and Banksy. But they do here, following my Bristol research trip.

Why Bristol research?

Bristol research curved terrace

Why not? It’s my home town so a research trip really appealed! It’s the city where I spent the first decades of my life. I am currently writing a book, set in the Regency, with scenes around the docks and in what was then South Gloucestershire, now just outside the city centre…

But more about the book at a later date

For today’s blog, I want to share with you my delight in a Bristol research trip where I discovered an area of the city that I only knew by name. Montpelier. Continue reading

Mosaics: just a few coloured stones laid on the ground?

Roman mosaic Nennig, Germany

Vibrantly coloured Roman floor mosaic, Nennig, Germany, 3rd century AD

In my recent travels, mostly exploring Mediterranean history (including Romans and Greeks) I’ve seen an awful lot of mosaics like the ones in Italica. I’ve even watched curators working to restore a mosaic in Pompeii.

But I’d never thought much about the fundamentals of creating a mosaic.

Mosaics are just a lot of coloured stones laid on the ground in a clever pattern, aren’t they?

Nope. There’s much more to it than that.

Engineering mosaics to last

If the coloured stones (tesserae) were simply laid on the ground, even if they were grouted together with mortar, they wouldn’t have lasted long. And many of them, as we know, have lasted for thousands of years. They had to be hard-wearing. They were going to be walked on.

semi-dome, christ pantocrator, capella palatina, Palermo

Capella Palatina, Palermo, Sicily

Not all of them, of course.

Some mosaics were for wall decoration as you can see in my earlier blog showing some of the incredible religious mosaics in Sicily.

Like this one here where the colours and all that gold really sing.

Hidden layers

Floor mosaics have lots of hidden underpinnings. (Wall mosaics probably have a lot less. Not sure on that, but it sort of stands to reason, doesn’t it?) In the museum in Ecija near Seville (called Astigi by the Romans) there are wonderful floor mosaics plus an explanation of how they were made. In pictures, I’m glad to say. Continue reading

Italica, the first city of Roman Spain: with geology problems

Roman Italica, Spain, panoramaLast week, I was visiting sites in Roman Spain (and sites from other periods too, but those are for another blog). The first Roman site was Italica, near Seville.

Italica was the birthplace of Trajan (he of the column, Emperor 98-117 AD) and also Hadrian (he of the wall, Emperor 117-138 AD). That reminded me, vividly, that not all Roman Emperors came from Rome.

Bust of Sulla now believed to be Scipio Africanus

Scipio Africanus (previously believed to be bust of Sulla)

Italica was founded long before either of those famous emperors, though. It dates back to the Second Punic War, the one with Hannibal and the elephants.  (You may remember learning about Rome’s decades of wars with Carthage and the latter’s eventual total destruction in 146 BC at the end of the Third Punic War. Carthago delenda est and all that, regularly declaimed by Cato the Elder?)

The Roman victor in the Second Punic War was Publius Cornelius Scipio whose victory in 206 BC at the battle of Ilipa (near modern Seville) ended the Carthaginians’ presence in Iberia. Scipio—later given the epithet Africanus for his final victory over Carthage—founded Italica for his wounded soldiers.
Well, he couldn’t easily send them back to Italy, could he?

Italica: old city and new city

There isn’t much sign of the old city, the vetus urbs founded by Scipio, as it now lies under the modern town of Santiponce. But Emperor Hadrian favoured Italica and gave it a lot of money to build a new, more splendid city. Much of that has been excavated and can be visited. EU citizens get in free. (Brits, sadly, don’t. Dontcha lurve Brexit?) Continue reading

The Hanseatic League (Hanse): zenith and decline

Hanseatic League stall with spices and exotic fruits

Replica of Hanseatic League (Hanse) stall selling spices and exotic fruits

Hanse trade was vast

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the rise of the Hanseatic League or Hanse. It became very powerful—and extremely rich—simply by working really hard and trading very cleverly. To give you an idea of how extensive Hanse trade was, take a look at this graphic from the Hansemuseum of all the items traded through Bruges (click to enlarge to read):

Hanseatic League imports and exports through Bruges Kontor

imports: cloth at the top, metals, foodstuffs, weapons, exotic animals, luxury goods and more 
Exports: jewels, pearls, carpets, parchment, sugar, weapons, furs, sponges, dyes and more

Clearly, if you were wealthy enough, you could buy practically anything known at the time. At the top of the blog, I’ve repeated last week’s image of a replica spice stall. But there are more. Continue reading

A Brief Encounter with Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott by H Raeburn

Sir Walter Scott by H Raeburn

To quote the Encyclopaedia Britannica:-

“Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet, (born August 15, 1771, Edinburgh, Scotland – died September 21, 1832, Abbotsford, Roxburgh, Scotland), Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer who is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.”

So why do I know so little about Scott?

I confess I have only read one of his books (Ivanhoe).

Roger Moore who played Scott's Ivanhoe

Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I suspect that was because I’d had a girlish crush on Roger Moore, who played the Eponymous hero in a long-ago TV series.

Scott’s Scottish tales use a lot of old Scots dialect, which can be baffling (nay, impenetrable) to many readers.

But that’s changed and now I know more about Scott

A couple of weeks back, I came pretty close to the man himself. Well, to his tomb. And his books. Continue reading

Frederick the Great and Sans Souci, plus a strange comma

Frederick the Great by Warhol

Frederick the Great by Warhol

Frederick the Great? Who he?
(A question asked by Brits, perhaps, but probably not by Germans.)

Not many monarchs get to be called “the Great”. Here, in England, we had Alfred.
In Russia, they had Peter and, later, Catherine (though she was a German, not a Russian).
In Prussia, there was Frederick. So what made him Great?

I mentioned in the blog about my passport woes that I really wanted to visit Sans Souci, Frederick the Great’s summer palace, south-west of Berlin. Well, now I have. And it was fascinating in ways I hadn’t expected at all. Continue reading

Poisonous plants lurking in the border

Gardening…

When I started writing my Maybridge Mysteries series, the opening scene for the first book had been in my “ideas” file for years. And I already knew that my main character, Abby Finch, was going to be a gardener.

I had a title in my head – A Rose for the Dead. Since I envisaged a series, it seemed like a really good idea to have a plant name in all the titles.

However, since it appears to be the convention for cozy crime is to have either murder, or death in the title, my publisher, Joffe Books, changed it to Murder Among the Roses.

Having spent thirty years having my working titles changed by my publisher, this didn’t come as a huge surprise. I still prefer mine but whatever sells the book. And I had my flower.

Since the use of plants was going to be part of the branding of the series (next up this autumn, Murder With Mistletoe), I fell down the research rabbit hole looking for plant life that can kill. Continue reading