The Mourning Coffee

Podcast Episode 6: Punch Magazine


Punch Magazine, which ran from 1841-2002, was a British humor and satire magazine.  Known for its wit and irreverence in its coverage of both politics and cultural trends, the magazine introduced the term “cartoon” to refer to comic drawings in 1843.  It became an institution in the Victorian era, and today’s podcast explores the long and fascinating history of this publication.

Podcast Episode 5: Queen Victoria’s Coronation


In this episode, we explore the magnificent pomp and circumstance surrounding the ascension of the second-longest reigning monarch of Great Britain, Queen Victoria. By the time she assumed the throne at the tender age of 18, she had overcome a stifling and lonely childhood, and was ready to wear the specially-made crown worth around $85M in today’s dollars.

Join us as we discuss the eye-popping State Coach, the masses of honored guests, and the meaning behind the various implements the queen was given during the ceremony.

Take Violet on Vacation


I know you’re a reader and that often means you’re reading anywhere, whenever your time permits. (I do this, too.) I want to see where you take Violet Harper on vacation over the coming months. So, I’m asking a teeny favor, share your photos with me.

Show me where you can be found reading one of the Lady of Ashes books. Extra points for reading in unique locations. I’m interested where Violet will turn up. Could it be the beach, the park, the doctor’s office waiting room, the museum, or a concert? Or perhaps Violet will be in front of your state or city’s welcome sign or in town square? I truly want to see where Violet will travel and the more unique the locations the better. (Plus, it gives me a glimpse into seeing some great locations across the states…or internationally – who knows where Violet will travel.)

Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy vacation planned just take out your camera or phone and snap a photo of one of the Lady of Ashes books – your pick, a physical book or on your eReader – and send it to us.

My assistant will be collecting the photos and adding them to a dedicated photo album on Facebook. The photos will be added within days after they are submitted so begin NOW.

At the end of August, I will choose my favorites. Who knows? I may even surprise my top pick(s) with a hand-selected gift from me. We’ll see how many photos are submitted. (Psst – please do take at least one photo, if not more, and send them to my assistant to keep her busy.)

Here’s what to include with your photo:

  1. Your name
  2. Where the photo was taken. (Tell us either city/state or if in front of a specific place then share that. Such as “at Gettysburg National Battlefield.”)
  3. Which Lady of Ashes book title you’re sharing in the photo.

That’s it. Super simple and easy to do.




If you’ve bought some Lady of Ashes products from our store and want to add a photo of your Violet swag, send it along. We’ll add those types of photos to the album as well.

Flat Stanley is often found in unusual places but Violet can be, too, right? Some may wonder “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” but I am wondering where a Lady of Ashes book will be seen next? Thanks in advance for playing along. I can’t wait to see all of your photos. Keep watching my Facebook page. And do invite your friends to join in this vacation fun. The more the merrier.

Podcast Episode 4: Joseph Lister, the Father of Antiseptic Surgery


Welcome to the 4th episode of The Queen is Not Amused, where we examine the life of a truly wonderful Victorian, Joseph Lister. A British surgeon known as the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Lister was single-handedly responsible for reducing surgical deaths by 80%. Inspired by Louis Pasteur and aided by his devoted wife, Agnes, Lister revolutionized the manner in which surgery was conducted. His life was a fascinating one, since his ideas about disinfecting equipment were initially met with scorn and mockery, yet he overcame all objections because he knew he was right.

In this podcast, I will also answer the most important question of all: Was Listerine really named for Joseph Lister?

Podcast Episode 3: Madame Tussaud and her Chamber of Horrors


Welcome to the 3rd episode of The Queen is Not Amused. In this episode, we briefly explore the life of Marie Grosholtz, who would one day become the famous Madame Tussaud.

Born fatherless, Marie’s story might have ended up a brief tale of poverty and death. Instead, she was able to sail the tumultuous tide of revolution in France and eventually end up one of the most famous—and successful—businesswomen in the world.

The Plot Thickens

post-itsI am frequently asked, “How do you come up with the ideas for your books?”

The short answer is, “I work with a great team.”

But here’s the longer answer:

I always start with some germ of an idea. For the LADY OF ASHES books, I might decide the book will dwell on some aspect of Victorian mourning or undertaking. For the FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MYSTERIES, I am looking for significant events in Florence’s life. Then I search history for some other event (and sometimes I like really obscure events!) that I can marry to the idea germ.

Next, I make what I call the “read ahead packet.” This includes the germinating idea, plus information on what was going on historically at the time of the proposed book. I frequently throw in the bios of some real people I might like to weave in if I can.

I send the read ahead packet to my husband, my brother, and one of my brothers-in-law to review. Then we schedule a plotting session. This involves those giant post-it notes you can put on the wall, and a bunch of markers.

We start the session with me asking a provocative question. For example, for the session prior to the novel STOLEN REMAINS, I asked, “Why would someone steal a dead body from a coffin?” For THE MOURNING BELLS, I asked, “Why would a dead body spring alive out of a coffin?”

Then we spend an evening around my dining room table, with me making notes on the wall sheets while we all discuss and argue over points. My brother is affectionately known as “The Red Baron” for his ability to shoot holes in another person’s seemingly brilliant plot idea. The only ground rule is that I have final say over the plot.

With that done, I take what is hopefully a loosely-constructed plot (and sometimes the plot is complicated enough that it requires a second plotting session), and I create what I call my Scene Distillation. This is where I sit down and move Violet or Florence through the story, scene by scene. I do this in a program called Scrivener, and it enables me to put each scene on the digital equivalent of an index card. So, I jot down one scene per “card,” and can rearrange them in a click-n-drop fashion. When I have around 70 scenes, I know I have between 90,000-100,000 words, and I begin writing.

There you have it. Four or five months later a book is produced, and then it goes through my internal review process. More on that in my next blog post!

Interested in Scrivener?

Podcast Episode 2: The Necropolis Train


Welcome to the 2nd episode of The Queen is not Amused. Those weird and wonderful Victorians hit upon an exceptionally genius method of taking care of their dead, after suffering from decades of overcrowded graveyards, decaying bodies contaminating the water, and the hazards of digging inside cemeteries with unmarked graves in them.

Take a trip down the London Necropolis Railway, the first purpose-built train to carry corpses from London to a remote cemetery in Surrey.


Podcast Episode 1: A Day in the Life of an Undertaker


Welcome to the inaugural episode of The Queen is not Amused.  For our first journey with those weird and wonderful Victorians, spend a few minutes inside an undertaker’s shop.  Experience what he does on a daily basis, learn about his greatest fear, and step through the planning of a funeral.  Those Victorians knew how to grieve in style! 


Important Dates in Violet’s Victorian World

queen-victoriaThe Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign, from June 20, 1837 until her death on January 22, 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, “refined sensibilities,” and national self-confidence for the United Kingdom. In Violet Harper’s world (and soon Florence Nightingale’s), readers of my books have experienced glimpses into some of these prominent dates.

  • August 14, 1834 –This Day in History: The Poor Law Amendment Act is passed, introducing workhouses for the healthy poor. And thus, Violet Harper finds her adoptive daughter, Susanna, in 1861.
  • September 10, 1846 — This Day in History: Elias Howe of Massachusetts receives a patent for his sewing machine. Funeral fashions can now be made in record time!
  • December 1849 – This Day in History: Florence Nightingale accompanied family friends Charles and Selina Bracebridge on a trip to Egypt and Greece. She sailed down the Nile and documented her trip. Of course, this was 20 years before the Suez Canal even opened, but it’s fun for me to think of both her and Violet Harper spending time in this exotic land. It’s out of print, but you can still find copies of Florence’s book, Letters From Egypt.
  • March 28, 1854 — This Day in History: Britain and France declare war on Russia, and the Crimean War begins. You may recall that in Stolen Remains, Lord Raybourn’s son fights in the Crimean War. Of course, the most famous figure of the time was Florence Nightingale, who did remarkable things to revolutionize the nursing profession, once considered so lowly that it was barely a step up from prostitution and acting.
  • January 29, 1856 — This Day in History: The Victoria Cross. Queen Victoria introduced this award to honor acts of great bravery during the Crimean War, the conflict where Florence Nightingale gained fame for her tireless work. The queen personally awarded the first Victoria Crosses to 62 men at a ceremony at Hyde Park.
  • August 16, 1858 — This Day in History: The first transatlantic telegraph is inaugurated by Queen Victoria and President James Buchanan, with the words “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will toward men,” sent from England, at the lightning-fast speed of one word every ten minutes. Less than a month later, the cable had failed, leading some people to claim that the whole thing had been a hoax and there had never actually been a working cable.
  • October 1, 1861 — This Day in History: The complete version of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, consisting of 24 collected monthly installments, is published; and becomes one of the major publishing events of the 19th century. Violet Harper is not happy.
  • January 1, 1877 — This Day in History: Queen Victoria is Declared Empress of India. India came under direct British government control in 1858, when the remaining authority of the East India Company was dissolved. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli suggested to the queen that she should be proclaimed empress. The queen was quite keen on the idea, which Disraeli’s predecessor, Gladstone, had been reticent to pursue. Legislation, known as the Royal Titles Act, was pushed through parliament on May 1, 1876, although Victoria would not officially use the title until January 1, 1877.
  • June 26, 1879 — This Day in History: Isma’il Pasha, Governor of Egypt, is Deposed. Isma’il Pasha was the khedive—or governor—of Egypt. He was deposed on orders of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who ruled Egypt at the time. The sultan also commanded that Isma’il’s son, Tewfik, be proclaimed khedive. This photo shows Isma’il and his son when Tewfik was still a young child. He took his father’s position when he was 28 years old. You will meet Isma’il Pasha in A Grave Celebration.
  • June 15, 1888 — This Day in History: Frederick III of Prussia Dies. Frederick was married to Vicky, Queen Victoria’s daughter. It was an arranged marriage, but by all accounts, a happy one; producing 8 children. You will meet Frederick in Lady of Ashes mystery book 6 – A Grave Celebration.
  • September 4, 1888 — This Day in History: George Eastman patents his roll-film camera and registers the Kodak trademark. Violet Harper’s post-mortem daguerreotypes will soon be a thing of the past!
  • January 22, 1901 — This Day in History: Queen Victoria’s reign ends. After being diagnosed with “cerebral exhaustion,” the queen died at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, aged 81. After a magnificent funeral procession through the streets of London on February 2, Victoria was laid to rest next to Albert in the royal mausoleum at Frogmore House in Windsor. The Victorian age was at an end.

A Collection of Victorian Era Advertisements

The distinctive Victorian style of layout for advertisements showcased extreme variations of type size and weight, all crammed within the page format, was an invention of expedience, allowing the printer to utilize every inch of precious space. Another distinction easily recognized is the use of extravagant embellishments commonly applied to architecture, furniture, clothing, and carried over to appear in elaborate borders and lettering in graphic design. A taste for ornamentation and ostentation was becoming a dominant style. Enjoy these examples. Which ad do you think is the strangest? Which one makes you want to purchase the product featured?