The Mourning Coffee

Violet Harper: Lady of Ashes Doll & Undertaking Bag

In 2013, doll collector Lynn Buonviri created a doll based on the cover of The Queen’s Dollmaker of main character, Claudette Laurent. Read the blog post describing this doll here. At a July 2014 book signing at Fenwick Street Used Books & Music, located in Leonardtown, Maryland, Lynn surprised me by sharing the Claudette Laurent doll re-imagined into the Victorian undertaker Violet Harper from the Lady of Ashes mystery series. What a treat to see Violet before me!

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Notice the parasol in Violet’s hand and the undertaking bag at her feet. Lynn has a gift for designing doll clothing and a way of capturing the tiniest of details. Thank you, Lynn, for sharing this touching tribute to Violet Harper.

Perhaps one day we will see a Florence Nightingale doll, replete with a nurse’s bag and Florence’s signature lamp!

A Special Undertaker’s Bag

In 2013, my friend Carolyn McHugh was inspired to repurpose Lady of Ashes into a purse. Carolyn uses her artist talents to repurpose books into purses, picture frames, vases, and other inventive items. She presented me with the pictured purse…or perhaps I’ll call it an undertaker’s bag. If you are able to join me at a book signing you may see me with this undertaker’s bag holding all my supplies.

Carolyn cut out an area to specially hold my book cover, and although you cannot see it well in the picture, there is a fine mesh lace across the cover. The lace secures the cover to the purse but is virtually invisible. Notice that there is even a pocket on the back for my bookmarks.

Be sure to visit the News page for notice of my local appearances then mark your calendar to join me. I’d love to meet you and personally thank you for reading my books. Because of you, I can continue writing and doing something I love.

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Inspired by a Book: Readers Share Their Handicrafts

When an author sits down to begin writing a novel it’s hoped the reader will enjoy the tale being spun plus find it a satisfying read, perhaps even find inspiration from one of the characters portrayed. It’s a happy surprise (for any author) to learn a reader has been prompted to ignite their own creativity and create something in their own artistic medium based on something I’ve written. Meet three of my readers who tapped into their creative juices after reading my book, The Queen’s Dollmaker—from my early historical fiction collection.

This early collection is no longer available new in print format (you may be able to find a used print copy) but with the availability of digital books can be purchased as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.

The titles in this collection include:

dollmaker-cuffMargaret Merang of Diamond Dolls Couture

Drawing inspiration from The Queen’s Dollmaker in April 2011, Margaret designed The Queen’s Dollmaker Cuff bracelet. Residing in Borneo Malaysia, Margaret finds a sense of happiness in jewelry making which allows her to experiment with colors, texture, and materials. She is drawn to the old-world charms with inspirations found from the eras of Renaissance, Victorian, Art Nouveau, and 1920s. It’s an honor to have had one of my books be a source of inspiration for this divine cuff.

Lynn Buonviri

In 2013 Maryland doll collector, Lynn Buonviri created this doll, based on the cover of The Queen’s Dollmaker. Notice she even posed the doll according to the cover. I believe Claudette Laurent would be pleased with Lynn’s dress interpretation. Lynn is a genealogist, historian, and writer, in addition to being a doll collector. She has researched and written on the legends surrounding Moll Dyer, a 17th century Maryland woman accused of witchcraft.

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Carol Ann Conti

Reading about the dollmaker inspired Carol Ann to share photos of the lovely suit and gown she sewed for her JKF and Jackie Kennedy dolls, 2012. Notice the fine details—from John’s boutonnière to the beading on Jackie’s gown. Beautiful handicraft, Carol Ann.

Podcast Episode 18: The First Christmas Cards

christmas-cardsThe year 1843 saw both the publication of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and the issuance of the very first Christmas card. Developed by Sir Henry Cole, a civil servant who not only assisted with the creation of the Penny Post but was also instrumental in management of the Great Exhibition in 1851, the card was an immediate hit with the British populace. It was not so enthusiastically received by the British temperance movement, who objected mightily to its depiction of a child drinking wine along with her parents. However, Cole had started a tradition that continues nearly two centuries later.

Podcast Episode 17: The Mold Riots of 1869

The town of Mold in northeast Wales has its own fascinating history dating back to the 11th century reign of William Rufus, but became infamous for its riots in the summer of 1869. Friction between Welsh coal miners and a particularly abusive English mine manager would result in military interference would leave several dead bodies and even more acrimony and hatred. As with all horrific events though, it would also lead to reform of the court system in Wales.

Podcast Episode 16: The Andover Workhouse Scandal

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England in the early 19th century was rife with bad harvests, disease, and poverty.  Parliament developed the concept of workhouses to assist the poor, by providing them with housing and meaningful work to do.  This plan met with varying levels of success, but was mostly disastrous.  Worst of all was the Andover Workhouse in Hampshire, where workhouse residents were reduced to seeking food from the decayed rotting bones of farmhouse animals…and perhaps a bone or two from the local graveyard.

Podcast Episode 15: The Suez Canal

suez-canalThe Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas through Egypt and thus provides a quicker shipping route from west to east, was inaugurated in an elaborate, weeks-long ceremony in November of 1869. It was promoted not only as an engineering wonder, but as a means by which permanent international peace and harmony would be achieved. Less than a year later, many of the countries whose monarchs had attended the opening ceremonies would be at war with each other. And Egypt would be completely broke and debt-ridden. And Great Britain would be angling for control of the canal over the French. International peace and harmony, indeed.

Podcast Episode 14: Prison Hulks

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Imagine the most pestilent, disease-ridden, rat-infested prison in 19th century Great Britain.  Now drop those conditions into a harbor and you have a prison hulk.  Only used for about a century, these floating dens of misery were responsible for countless prisoner deaths.

Podcast Episode 13: The Crystal Palace Exhibition

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Opened on May 1, 1851, by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was the first of the World’s Fair exhibitions of culture and industry. Albert, the Prince Consort, was a major force behind the exhibition, which contained some 100,000 objects, by nearly 14,000 contributors. Britain occupied half the display space inside with exhibits from the home country and the Empire, while France was the largest foreign contributor of objects.  Just a few of the displays included the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the electric telegraph, vulcanized rubber, microscopes, barometers, surgical instruments, and even a 27-foot tall Crystal Fountain.

Behind the Scenes at The Queen is Not Amused

tony-papadakisMany of my readers have asked about my brother, who co-hosts my podcast, The Queen is Not Amused. So that you can get to know more about him and how we work together, I’ve asked him to write a blog post to answer the many questions you’ve had about the behind-the-scenes activities on the podcast. I haven’t edited or changed a word of it. Enjoy! -Christine

Q: How much prep do you get for each episode?

It depends on the podcast episode. Normally I get almost no prep, and sometimes I get zero prep. It depends on if Christine wants me a little prepared or if she wants a genuine reaction. For example, in Episode 9 When Albert Met Victoria, she started out by saying the episode was about love. My reaction was genuine. Frankly, I almost got up and walked out. That’s not what I signed up for!

All my reactions are genuine. I am hearing what my sister says for the first time as we record. I am learning along with the audience. Often, I just sit and listen and take it in. I enjoy history, and I especially enjoy learning about history I did not previously know.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the podcasts?

What I enjoy most is the very thing that made me suggest doing it: Christine’s understanding of history. While researching her books, she quickly walked away with a take on history that was often at odds with what I had heard about Victorian England. Time and again I found myself being fascinated with what she had learned. 

It was her take on history that led me to suggest the podcast to her. I am glad she took me up on the offer!

Q: How much research does Christine do for each episode?

I’m not sure I can answer this directly. She normally comes with a stack of paper that she is flipping through as she talks. It is what she brings for each episode to ensure the accuracy of what she is saying. Sometimes, if you listen closely, you can hear her turning a page.

If I had to guess, I would say she comes with about 10 pages of notes per episode. When she gets on a roll, however, her eyes are not on her notes. She is just gushing out what she learned. It’s really amazing to watch her go.

Q: How many takes does each episode require?

It depends. We normally know in the first minute if we have a good take. We spend as much time on sound checks before recording than we do with the recording itself. This is because when we are done recording, I have to break everything down and put it away until the next time I need to record.

We did three episodes in a row on a single take, and then the next episode took five takes. Each episode is its own little journey.

As the person who edits the podcasts, I can assure you that when we start, we roll straight through. I have yet to edit out any real dialogue. The most I do is tighten up a pause or take out a stray noise.

Q: How did you and Christine come up with the ideas for this podcast?

Christine comes over, we do sound checks, she tells me what the podcast is about (sometimes), and then we record. I have absolutely no idea where she comes up with the topics.

I can say that when we discussed the idea of the podcast, she quickly twirled out about twenty topics. They tumbled out so quickly that I couldn’t keep track of them. She later said that she wrote out about a hundred podcast episodes.

Here’s the scary part: once we nailed down the format of the show, she realized that many of her topics needed to be split up. Her original idea was to pack more history into each episode. So maybe the list of a hundred topics will turn into two hundred or so! I don’t know. I’m hearing these topics as we record them.

Q: Both you and Christine have a love of history. Where does that come from?

Our live of history mostly comes through our parents. Mom was an avid reader, and Chris picked up her love of books from mom. Mom’s preference was for mysteries even though she read widely.

Dad on the other hand grew up in Greece and France during World War II. I remember him watching World at War and Victory at Sea, and those shows stuck with me. I think that was where I first learned to appreciate history. Years later, while travelling to Charlottesville on the back roads, I pulled off to see a Civil War battlefield display (the Battle of the Wilderness). I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the Civil War, so I bought the American Heritage book on the Civil War and was immediately hooked. Christine asked me extensive questions about the Civil War when writing her first and sixth Lady of Ashes books to make sure she got details correct.

I was in my forties before I began to explore the American Revolution for myself. Additionally, while in Seminary, I found the church history classes fascinating, especially the early church through the fall of the Roman Empire. [I’m pleased to share that my brother hosts  the podcast, 10 Minutes in New Testament Greek, devoted to mining nuggets out of the Greek New Testament that you can use devotionally or in your ministry.  If you desire a connection with the original Greek but don’t have the time for involved classes with lots of memorization, then 10 Minutes in New Testament Greek is for you!]

Podcast Episode 12: The Crimean War

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The causes of the Crimean War (1853-1856) were complicated, as they usually are.  During the years leading up to the war, France, Russia and Britain were all competing for influence in the Middle East, particularly with Turkey.  In addition, Russia was angry with Turkey over the maltreatment of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire.  Moreover, control of access to religious sites in the Holy Land had been a cause of tension between Catholic France and Orthodox Russia for a number of years. When riots occurred in Bethlehem (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in 1853, Tsar Nicholas I blamed the Turks for the many Orthodox monks killed during fighting with French monks. This podcast examines this relatively short but terrible conflict that would give rise to the world’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale.