Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Welcome! P J Jones - author of a spoof romance novel called...errr....'Romance Novel.'

Today I'm delighted to welcome author PJ Jones to the blog.
The rather unusual cover of 'Romance Novel' cannot fail to catch the eye...and with this in mind, I asked PJ how her humourous take on the romance genre has been recieved so far.
PS- As part of her awesome blog tour, PJ is kindly offering a $15 Amazon eVoucher to one lucky person who leaves a comment during the tour - the name to be drawn at random - so why not leave a comment for a chance to win?
Over to you PJ!

How this very different ‘romance novel’ has been received

In my past life, I’d published five romances, all of which received great reviews. This time around, my premonitions about how well ROMANCE NOVEL would be received ranged from cautious optimism to doubtful disparagement. Though close friends and critique partners encouraged me to publish ROMANCE NOVEL, I was still doubtful that everyone else would ‘get it’.

Luckily, so far, most people have gotten my  unorthodox and sometimes crude sense of humor.
In addition to the awesome critic reviews, RN has also picked up some great reader reviews and some  AWESOME personal letters from readers who seriously ROCK.

One such reader actually called me ‘brilliant’. Really? Me brilliant? In all honesty, I’d always envisioned myself as someone of average intelligence whose brain occasionally farts out sage nuggets of boorish, though somewhat comical, one-liners. Though I’m not rushing to fill out that MENSA application, I truly appreciate the compliment, and will certainly store it away in my memory to use whenever I need to win an argument against my husband.

So in a really long, drawn-out, painful, complicated round-about way of saying things, yes, ROMANCE NOVEL has been received very well thus far. Why thank you, Grace, for asking.
And just to prove I wasn’t blowing smoke up your fannies in this vague and rambling interview, here’s some SUPER-AWESOME links to some SUPER-AWESOME critics who loved ROMANCE NOVEL.  Thanks to everyone who stopped by today, and thanks, readers, for loving RN and totally making me feel all sparkly inside and out, just like a vampire, only way more sparkly. PJ

PJ Jones began writing Romance Novel in the spring of 2009 when she was seriously ill, thinking that this book would be her last dying legacy for mankind. After you read this book, you will probably wonder if she was trying to seal her fate in hell. Who knows? But PJ Jones has conquered her illness and is much better now. But you probably don't care, as long as her writing is funny. PJ Jones is also an avid reader of real romance novels. So why does she poke fun of them? Consider it comic relief.
“I wouldn’t drink that poison if I were you.”
He spoke with a slight accent, reminding Smella of a lonely soul from another place, another time. Or maybe just a British guy trying to sound like he was from nineteenth century Boston.
Smella’s eyes widened. Her gaze shot to the beer, then back to the stranger. “What poison?”
“You can’t pin anything on me!” The bartender hollered while stumbling backward, before falling against a shelf of beer mugs.
Locked in the stranger’s dark gaze, Smella ignored the sound of crashing glass. She was more interested in his perfectly kissable blood red lips and the cold, impenetrable aura that radiated off his stony features.  
“Alcohol destroys your kidneys.” The stranger flashed a subdued smile, revealing pearly white, jagged teeth.  
“You’re right.” Turning down her lips in disgust, Smella pushed away the offending glass. “Thank you for berating my choice of beverage. Throughout this novel, you may occasionally behave like a total control freak, but I know you are only concerned for my well-being, and because I am a woman, obviously I’m too stupid to act in my own best interest.”
Somewhere in the darkest recesses of her mind, she thought she heard the obese bartender scream, “Help me! I’m bleeding everywhere!” But she refused to let him ruin the romantic tension that she was trying to build with the tall pasty stranger. Leaning toward him, she playfully batted long lashes while twirling a lock of hair around her finger.  
But the stranger didn’t respond to her flirtation. He was too busy pinching his nose and making a gagging sound.
She scooted back. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” He spoke through a wheeze. “I have to go.”
In a flash, he was gone.
Smella was confused, bewildered, frightened, rejected, vulnerable, hurt, self-conscious and irritated.
But never mind her PMS.
She was more concerned about her awkward encounter with the kind stranger. 

AND FINALLY....if you would like to know more, here are some links.

Links you want to include: http://pjjonesramblings.blogspot.com/
My FB page:

GRACE: - Thank you for visiting PJ! Romance Novel certainly looks an excellent holiday read - as long as you dont mind people staring because you're laughing so hard!
Dont forget - leave a comment for a chance to win an eVoucher!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Writing to Me is .....Escapism.

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before, Grace Elliot-author, is http://remembernewvember.blogspot.com
The blog featured after, Grace Elliot- author, is the captivating http://blogaliciousblogs.blogspot.com
 Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy! 

Widget and friend - more of Widget later......

Writing to Me is…Escapism.

The theme of this week’s Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour is “Writing to me is….”  Many adjectives spring to mind when I think about what writing means to me: addictive, essential, rewarding, frustrating…but the one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is ‘Escapism.’
Let me explain.
Life is hectic. I’m a working mother with two teenage sons. My job as a veterinarian is both intellectually and emotionally demanding. Veterinary medicine requires logical thinking and deduction, no flights of fancy or imagination, but cold, hard scientific facts in order to reach a diagnosis. And then I must translate those conclusions into words that a distressed client can understand without being baffled by long words.

I have worked at the same practice for twelve years and have known many of the patients since they were puppies or kittens.When they become ill, this is extra pressure because I feel I know them like my own pets. The temptation is to then ‘take work home with me’ and dwell on difficult cases once I’ve left the surgery, with exhausting results. I’ve learnt the hard way that everyone needs time to relax and switch off…and for me this is where writing comes in.

Widget demonstrating that relaxation takes dedication and tenacity (a skill, she says, that few humans possess.)

I started writing five years ago, after a school reunion. People I hadn’t seen for twenty years asked if I still wrote stories, (my English homework was regularly read out to the class.) In a ‘Eureka’ moments, I remembered the satisfaction and escapism of crafting a story, went home and started writing.
I’ve never looked back since. Always an avid reader, to rediscover the joy of crafting my own world is escapism without price! I have a photographic memory and visualize a scene in my head and then transfer it to the page – an almost meditative process. Mentally placing myself in Regency England, mixing with the characters and feeling their peril has trained me to let go of the worries of the present day, rest and refresh. It’s amazing how much more energy I have when I don’t waste it brooding over the day and worrying about the one ahead.
Obviously I've disturbed Widget's 'Chi' by getting up!

So for me writing is an escape from everyday cares….plus I get to spend more time with Widget (one of my five cats.) She thoroughly approves of my writing habit because she snuggles up to my leg. I’d like to think it was love, but I suspect it’s just that I’m warm…but hey, you can’t have everything!

Don’t forget, the next stop on the Blog-A-Licious tour is the lovely Pandora’s blog at:

Thanks for visiting!
See you again soon, G x

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Anna Maclean - author of 'Louisa and the Missing Heiress.'

Today I'm thrilled to host author, Anna Maclean. Her latest book 'Louisa and the Missing Heiress' has the unusual hook of having a writer, who is a household name, as heroine. Anna is also offering a $20 eVoucher to one lucky person who leaves a comment during her book tour. So without further ado I'll hand over to Anna to reveal a little known side to Louisa May Alcott.
APOLOGIES - my mistake, but Anna is offering a prize of a Victorian cup and saucer, for the winner of the prize draw, and not a voucher as I stated. Sorry for any confusion! Totally my error.
Grace x

The Secret World of Louisa May Alcott

One of the joys of writing about Louisa May Alcott is that there is so much about her many people don’t know!  Say Louisa May Alcott, and most people think  of Little Women.  But in fact, Louisa had a long and good career before she wrote that book for children. She wrote ‘blood and thunder’ stories, often under a non de plume or  simply as ‘anonymous.’  They were stories full of very grown-up adventures, romances and gothic tales.  Because they were somewhat racy for the time (and because she was a lady from a good family) she didn’t write them under the name of Louisa May Alcott…but they are hers, and very distinctive.
            Louisa couldn’t publish racy materials under own name for another important reason people often aren’t aware of:  she and her family sometimes broke the law, in their fight against slavery and so it was important not to call attention to herself in a controversial way.  In Boston, before the Civil War, it was illegal to harbor and assist run-away slaves, and the Alcott’s often assisted slaves who were making their way to safety in Canada. If they were caught, they could be fined five hundred dollars (a huge sum, for them) or even imprisoned.  So, it was important to live somewhat quietly and without undue attention, especially on the parts of the daughters of the family. Women were expected to know their place, and that was at home.
            Those were two parts of Louisa I wanted to introduce to people when I began writing Louisa and the Missing Heiress:  the author with an  imagination full of characters, some of them shady and of dubious character, and the abolitionist and believer in women’s rights, ready to risk her safety and security for others and for justice.
            Louisa was a ‘good’ daughter,  very similar to Jo March, but when we read Jo March closely we see the rebellion, the stubbornness, the determination to be independent rather than become a wife.  Those are very much Louisa’s qualities.  We may think we know Louisa May Alcott, but she had great depth and I think much of her life is still unknown to us.  She had to work so hard to preserve her good reputation and her family’s safety there must have been much she kept hidden.
            Little Women certainly was a spring board for Louisa and the Missing Heiress, but I decided very quickly not to stop with that initial image of the dutiful daughters gathered around the family hearth, supporting each other and their mother when their father is away.  I wanted to take Louisa into some of those areas she didn’t write about as Lousia May Alcott, into families where not all children are loved or treated well, where doing good sometimes requires breaking the law, where some pretty awful things happen to innocent people.  In other words, into the true world rather than the rich and lovely and usually benign world she constructed in her children’s novels.  Louisa knew how to write to comfort and entertain children; but she also knew how to write to amuse adults and further a political goal.  That was the Louisa I worked with, the one I wanted to introduce to readers.

Author - Anna Maclean.

Artist’s biography
Jeanne Mackin is the author of several novels:  The Sweet By and By (St. Martin’s Press), Dreams of Empire (Kensington Books), The Queen’s War (St. Martin’s Press), and The Frenchwoman (St. Martin’s Press).   She has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in several journals and periodicals including  American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications)  and co-editor of  The Norton Book of Love (W.W. Norton),  and wrote art columns for newspapers as well as feature articles for several arts magazines.  She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C.  She teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont, has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York and has traveled extensively in Europe.  She lives with her husband, Steve Poleskie,  in upstate New York.

Website: http://www.annamaclean.net/

From Louisa and The Missing Heiress by Anna Maclean

The clock chimed four-thirty. I sighed and stirred, tapping my foot more quickly under the concealing hem of my brown linsey-woolsey skirts. Where was our hostess? Surely she could have tried on every hat in Boston by now.  Had she forgotten? Dot had never been the quickest mind – she had wept over fractions and torn her hair over South American rivers – but to completely forget her own welcome-home tea party!
            I looked outside the room into the hall.  The huge, ornate coat tree was close enough to the parlor that every time I looked in that direction and saw Mr. Wortham’s velvet coat hanging there on its hook, I had the eerie sense that someone else was standing there, watching.  Something strange, hostile, dangerous, floated through that house where newlyweds should have been so happy.
            Much as I wished to see Dot, I decided it was time to leave. Abba was waiting for me at home with a basket of clothing to clean and mend for the women’s shelter and other tasks with which society could not be bothered.  Mr. Wortham was standing at the bay window, looking out into the street.  I went to him.
            “I do hope Dot is all right.  This is not like her.”
            “I fear a year in Europe may have changed her,” he said.  “It is liberating to travel, you know.”  But he was frowning and his dark eyes seemed darker than usual.


Thank you, Anna, for visiting today. I wish you every success with your latest book which looks very exciting! Dont forget to leave a comment for a chance to win that voucher!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Pidgeon Fancier - bird related historical trivia.

The Song Thrush (courtesy of Arthur Grosset.)

According to a recent RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) survey, many of  Britain’s native birds are in decline. Changes in farming and horticulture have deprived birds such as the song-thrush of its favourite foods – slugs and snails, leading to a decline in  numbers. However this is not the first time that native birds have had a lean time. In Victorian times bird keeping was a popular hobby amongst city communities. Native birds such as thrushes, bullfinches and goldfinches were trapped at night in country villages and sent by train to the suburbs to be sold in markets at Greenwich, Hounslow and Woolwich.

Bullfinches and goldfinches were especially popular, since they could be trained to sing and fetch a high
price, several shillings each, whilst larks sold for six to eight pence a piece. There was even a market for
 dowdy birds such as house sparrows- once they were disguised with paint –sadly when they preened they died of lead poisoning. Even more unpleasant was the craze in the 1890’s for ‘flying’ greenfinches. These birds were sold for half a penny each, with a cotton thread tied to a leg. The idea was to bet on which bird could fly in circles longest before it dropped dead of exhaustion.

Keeping caged birds was widespread, even amongst prisoners held at the Tower of London. One prisoner wrote ‘An Epitaph on a Goldfinch,’ on the death of his pet bird,
‘Buried June 23, 1794 by a fellow prisoner in the Tower of London.’
The Spitalfields weavers of the 1840’s also prized their birds. The breeding of fancy pigeons and canaries; Almond tumblers, Pouting horseman and Nuns, was taken very seriously. Bird shows were highly competitive, matching the fashion amongst wealthier classes for dog shows. It could be a dodgy business - the prize winning pigeons at a show in Islington had had their throats stitched back to improve their appearance – the perpetrators were found out and prosecuted.
London’s pigeons are descended from those that escaped from dove cotes in medieval times, to roost amongst the cities ledges and towers. In 1277 a man is recorded as falling from the belfry of St Stephens, Walbrook whilst trying to raid a pigeons nest and in 1385 the Bishop of London complained of ‘malignant persons’ who threw stones at pigeons resting in city churches.

Nowadays, birds that interact and be part of a family, like parrots, are popular. An African Grey, Sunny, was the mascot of HMS Lancaster. The ship’s crew taught him an impressive vocabulary including an armoury of expletives so extensive he has to be hidden in a broom cupboard when dignitaries visit. His catch phrases included –
‘You ain’t seen me, right?’ and
Zulus, thousands of ‘em!

Another parrot owner was W S Gilbert –  who wrote the words to accompany Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music. He owned a particularly fine parrot, reputedly the best talker in England. When a guest commented on the appearance of a second parrot in his hallway, Gilbert replied:
‘The other parrot, who is a novice, belongs to Doctor Playfair. He is reading up with my bird, who takes pupils.’

However, pet birds were not necessarily popular with everyone. George Bernard Shaw was given a caged canary, which he heartily disliked, calling it a ‘little green brute.’ He was delighted when the bird was stolen, and equally disappointed when a friend replaced it. His comment was;
‘I’m a vegetarian and can’t eat it, and its too small to eat me.’

Author and playwright, George Bernard Shaw.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Welcome Killian McRae - guest author.

Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Killian Mc Rae, to my blog.

Born and raised in rural Michigan, Killian used the local library- a single room in a her village's firehouse- as an escape to visit distant worlds, meet brave heroes, learn of classic mythologies, and develop a lifelong love of learning and reading.

Though she had written three novels before graduating high school, she never thought of trying to publish until much later in life. 12.21.12 was her first published work, released in late 2010. A second work due out in Fall 2011, "A Love by Any Measure," is a historical romance set in 1860's Ireland
Killian is a member of Stanford University's Writer's Certificate program and PRO member of RWA. Her other interests include musicology and history. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area. 

Why history has spoiled me for fiction.(Killian writes.)
I know, this is possibly the last admission you’d expect to see from an avid reader and writer of fiction. And not just fiction, but often fiction imbued with element of science fiction and the paranormal. Yet, I can’t deny it. As far back as I can remember, history has fascinated me. Perhaps because I have never entirely felt at ease in my own time, I have sought out kindred spirits who speak to me through the memory of their experiences- from Ancient Egypt, to medieval France, and from Raj India all the way back to Olmec villages.  In high school, I identified far more with flower children than I did with Children of the Corn.
In fiction, we try to craft a story that will evoke in the reader a guided empathy for the character and their conflicts. In the study of history, we are forced to make this connection by virtue of our shared human experience. How can I ever write a battle scene that could compare with the real events at the Battle of Kadesh, where Egypt crushed its last true rival, the Hittites, that allowed it to establish itself as a great empire? Could I ever write a love story with as many twists, spins, and conspirators as that between Suleiman the Great and Hurrem Sultana? And when our gaze turns evil, could I create a villain that could rival Alexander the Great or Ivan the Terrible?
Which begs the question, why do I entertain fiction at all? And don’t get me wrong. While my reading time falls between fiction and non-fiction pretty equally, I feel woefully under qualified to attempt to tell with any validity anything but the most trivial of anecdotes. Real life doesn’t forget the edges like fiction does. In real life, when a roman solider was stabbed with a spear, he didn’t make a painful grimace then fall dead. Often, he sat there, bleeding, wallowing in pools of blood not entirely his own, baking under the Mediterranean sun if he was lucky, or drenched in the rain if not, dying slowly while dozens or hundreds around him suffered the same.  To simplify the true scope of actual human experiences to fill a bullet point subject or make a vague illustration, I feel would be doing a disservice to human experience.
Moreover, history is experienced by the many, while fiction generally tells of the few. In writing fiction, I feel I can embrace a small corner of that which is common to us all, and explore it. I’m looking at one rock on the edge of the stream, if you will, picking it up, and seeing how it skips if I toss it over the surface. Never could I, however, use all the rocks to overcome the stream.
[If you would like to find out more about Killian or her work, follow these links.]
Twitter: @killianmcrae

Killian's new release '12.21.12' looks intriguing. Here is the blurb:

Archaeologist Sheppard Smyth has staked his career and the honorable memory of his deceased wife and partner on proving his widely-panned theory: Cleopatra VII, last ruler of Ancient Egypt, was murdered. When a statue of the doomed queen is discovered in an Olmec excavation site in Mexico, Shep rushes to investigate and, hopefully, find the proof that has evaded him for so long. Soon, he finds himself in the middle of the rivalry between the sexy, enigmatic international thief, Victoria Kent, and infamous rumored Russian mobster, Dmitri Kronastia. Both hold pieces to the puzzle that will finally shed light on Cleopatra's death, as they vie for Shep's trust and assistance. As he is drawn further into their world of ancient gods, supernatural powers, and alternative history, little does Shep know that the fate of all humanity may hinge on his ability to discover the truth in between Victoria and Dmitris' fragmented claims and hidden identities. Working to decode the past while in order to save the future, Shep becomes a common pawn played by forces working to see out a quest older than the pyramids and cloaked by the Mayan prophecy of 12.21.12. 

And Killian treats us to an excerpt:
With a sigh, he threw the greenbacks and one more meaningless night down on the bar.
His cash was gone. He wasn’t sure if he was still in possession of his keys. He could only vaguely remember where he’d parked the car when he’d gone for “just a drink or two” several hours before.
Last call had come and gone. But, despite his best efforts, the memories remained. He should have known better; Christine’s face was burned too far down in his soul for the alcohol to reach so deeply.
The best Shep could hope for on these occasions was achieving numbness. He measured his success against his current situation. A guy sitting down the bar was eying him with repulsion like Shep was some vagabond off the street. Shep didn’t give a damn. He hadn’t showered in five days and even he noticed his own smell was less than pleasant. Who the hell cared? On the TV, some reporter was gabbing on and on about the Mayan calendar and the end of ... yada, yada, yada.
Numbness achieved. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Victorian Wonder.

The Great Exhibition - 1851.

What have these objects in common?
-         A knife with 1,851 blades
-         Furniture carved from giant lumps of coal
-         A bed that became a life raft
-         The world’s largest mirror
-         The model of a suspension bridge designed to link England with France?

Answer: They were all displayed at The Great Exhibition of 1851.

Queen Victoria opening The Great Exhibition, 1st May 1851.
Housed within the magnificent Crystal Palace (see previous post), Prince Albert’s idea was to draw together up-to-date technology from all over the world, to display under one roof.  

The concept was a roaring success. The Great Exhibition received over 827,000 visitors in the (just under) six months it was open. The busiest day was October 7th (just before the Exhibition closed) with a total of 110,000 visitors on that one day. At one point 92,000 people were inside the Crystal Palace at the same time – a world record of the day.

But amidst the hustle and crush, there was one oasis of calm – the Newfoundland Exhibition. Their display took the visitor through the production of cod liver oil and mysteriously, wasn’t very popular.

The American display nearly didn’t happen at all. Congress provided sufficient funds to ship their exhibits as far as England but no further. With their goods impounded at the docks, it was an American philanthropist, George Peabody, who stumped up the $15,000 to get the display up and running. However, after this unpromising start, the goods themselves came as a huge surprise. There were innovative machines for doing really useful things such as a sewing machine by Elias Howe, an automated reaper by Cyrus McCormick and an automated revolver by Samuel Colt.

The India Pavilion at The Great Exhibition.

But strangely, the most popular place within The Great Exhibition were the elegant retiring rooms. Furnished with flushing toilets they were a revelation in themselves and not to be missed. In one day alone, these toilets accommodated the comfort of 11,000 people – quite something when at the time the British Museum boasted of having two, outside privies.
The Crystal Palace, home to The Great Exhibition, in Hyde Park.

 The Great Exhibition was such a success that it generated a profit of 186,000 GBP. With this money thirty acres of land, just south of Hyde Park was purchased which became affectionately known as ‘Albertropolis.’ It was on this site that most of the famous institutions and museums that dominate London to this day were built: The Royal Albert Hall, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and the Royal Colleges of Art and of Music. So even though The Great Exhibition is gone, the legacy lives on.

The entrance hall to the Natural History Museum, London - in the modern day.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

'Miraculously Improbable,' - The Crystal Palace.

‘Miraculously Improbable’ – the Crystal Palace.

Following my midweek post ‘Regency Panes’,  let’s look at a Victorian glass building:
“As miraculously improbable as a giant soap bubble.”

Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, 1851. (Thanks to mytimemachine.co.uk)

The building is, of course, the Crystal Palace – home of The Great Exhibition, 1851. But this wonderful edifice didn’t start life with such a snappy name; it’s original title was,
‘The Palace of the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations.’
When the Punch columnist, Douglas Jerrold, saw the finished building he dubbed it ‘The Crystal Palace, and the name stuck!

 Punch Magazine, reknown for its dry wit and caustic humour.
The idea for the Great Exhibition is credited to a civil servant, Henry Cole (incidentally, Mr Cole is also credited with the invention of the Christmas card – as a way of encouraging people to use the penny post.) But designing a suitable building to house the exhibition did not go smoothly. A competition ran, but of the 245 entries, all were rejected as unsuitable. It fell to the unlikely person of the head gardener at Chatsworth House, Joseph Paxton, to have the idea of a giant building based on hot houses.

Contempory view of Crystal Palace.

With a certain serendipity, two events meant his design became possible. First was the invention of sheet glass (which cooled more quickly, required less polishing and could therefore be produced more rapidly than plate glass) and secondly, the abolition of the Window Tax (1696, tax on the number of windows) and Glass Tax (1746 tax on the weight of glass in a window)
The beauty of Paxton’s design was that the building was made from interlocking parts which could be manufactured off-site, and assembled on-site; like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Cast iron trusses measuring 3 foot by 23 foot 3 inches, formed a giant frame from which a total of a million square foot of glass  hung – a third of England’s glass production for a year.

St Paul's Cathedral during The Blitz, WW II.

The finished building measured exactly 1,851 feet long (as a tribute to the year, 1851, when The Great Exhibition was opened). The interior volume was so vast that four Saint Paul’s Cathedral would fit inside; but the Crystal Palace took a mere 35 weeks to build, whereas Saint Paul’s Cathedral took 35 years.

In 1851 this glinting, transparent building was almost beyond the public’s imagination,
“..as miraculously improbable as a giant soap bubble.”

The magnificent interior, large enough to accomodate Hyde Park's elm trees.

[ Next Wednesday – NEW blog post on:  Terrific Great Exhibition Trivia ]

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Regency Panes - Why Windows Are More Interesting Than They Appear.

Photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds, http://www.flickriver.com/
   This week I discovered a wonderful book, ‘Regency Style’ by Steven Parissien, and the chapter on windows is especially fascinating. For instance, did you know that the ‘bottle pane’ windows associated with old-fashioned bow windows were NEVER used at the front of a house and this glass was a fire hazard? (More about this, later.)

In the 18th century there were two methods of producing glass.

Crown Glass.

The best quality window panes were made from crown glass. To make this, a globe of molten glass was blown and then flattened on a bed of sand into a disco some five or six foot in diameter.
Image courtesy of the Bevan Family, http://bevan.rth.org.uk/

“…a loud ruffling noise, like the rapid unfurling of a flag in a strong wind.”
Contemporary description of crown glass being blown.

Image courtesy of The Bevan Family, http://bevan.rth.org.uk/

The blowing rod or ‘pontil’ was cut from the disc, and once the glass had cooled a little it was cut into panes measuring ten by fifteen inches.

Muff Glass.

Panes of an inferior quality were made by swinging the molten glass was swung over a sand pit until it formed long cylinders, these were then cut open, flattened out and cut to size.

Window Glazing.

The limitation of manufacturing flat panes of glass restricted their size, and this is where glazing came in. The typical Georgian or Regency window had a sash treatment, described as ‘Eight over eight’, ‘six over six,’ or ‘four over four’, depending on how many panes were used.

Typical Georgian '6 by 6' sash windows.
Photo courtesy of the Bevan Family.
Apparently the workmanship of these windows was much admired, according to one contemporary report (quoted below.)

“Nothing surprised me more at first, than the excellent workmanship of the doors and windows; no jarring with the wind, no currents of air, and the windows, which are all suspended by pulleys [sash windows] rise with a touch.”
Window Myths.

When thinking of Georgian shops, many of us conjure images of sweeping bow front windows with bottle glass panes. Actually, these were very rare.
Firstly, the bow windows weren’t allow to project more than ten inches into the street (1774 Building Act), and less so in narrow lanes. Secondly, bottle or bullion glass (the knobbly pane left when the pontil was removed during crown glass production) was never used on a front elevation.

Bottle Glass.

Lumpy bottle glass was considered inferior and used out of sight, such as in rear of a building, north facing windows, or kitchen basement windows. Partly this was because the glass was unsightly, but mainly because it was a fire hazard! The indentation focused the sun’s rays, in the much the same way as a magnifying glass, and the unwary risked their curtains being set alight.

A revolution in glass making – plate glass.

In 1832, Lucas Chance revolutionized glass making with an industrialized process he imported from the continent to use in his factory in Stourbridge. This allowed for the manufacture of larger and more uniform panes of glass…such as were used in The Crystal Palace in 1851….[for trivia about The Crystal Palace and The Great Exhibition see my next blog post, this Sunday.]
Crystal Palace, home of The Great Exhibition, 1851.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Breath of Death (Part 2 of 2)

The previous post recounted how the Victorian fashion for green wallpaper could have unexpected...and deadly consequences....because arsenic was used to create rich colours (scroll down to read this post.) Today we look at how green wallpaper entered Victorian popular culture - as a potential murder weapon!

The ‘Chambers Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts’ relates the story of an orphan boy called Sir Frederick Staunton.

Freddie’s guardian, his Uncle, wished the boy out of the way so that he could inherit, and so sent his ward to stay with the local vicar. His instructions were to give the boy the best room in the house, a room which just happened to be decorated with a wallpaper of a:  “..rich, deep, emerald hue.”  Apparently, the locals claimed the room was cursed by a monk in the time of Henry VIII, in retribution for his dissolution of the monasteries, it being said that:
“Several deaths had occurred in the green chamber in particular, for the most part blooming girls who had faded and pined under ‘the curse’ until their dim eyes had looked their last at the emerald-tinted walls.” 
Fortunately for a rapidly sickening Freddie, a visiting physician spotted the significance of the green wallpaper, linked it to the vapours given off from the arsenic tinted pigment and had the boy removed from that room .... and all ended happily.

  Of course life is never that straighforward and unhappily, arsenic content wasn’t restricted to green wallpaper, but also present in blue, pink, yellow, brown, gray and white. In 1870’s America, the Michigan Board of Health assembled books of samples of arsenical wallpaper, called ‘Shadows from the Walls of Death’  circulated to every state library with the aim of increasing awareness of this silent, but deadly, danger.

 Even so, it seems Queen Victoria remained unaware of the risk of arsenic in wallpaper, when in 1879 she abraided a guest for being late for his audience. His defence was that he had slept poorly because of the green wallpaper in his bedroom. Astonished to learn of the dangers of arsenical papers the Queen immediately had every bit of wallpaper stripped out of Buckingham Palace.

An example of a William Morris wallpaper.

  However not everyone was so easily convinced. The famous artist and designer, William Morris,  only removed green arsenic pigments from his wallpapers under protest, writing in 1885:
“….it is hardly possible to imagine….a greater folly…than the arsenic scare.”

  Eventually in the 1870’s it was public fear of poisoning that saw the decline in fashion for green. Some manufacturers’ tried to forestall this by printing ‘Free From Arsenic’ on the back of their papers. This backfired since when tests were run on supposedly ‘arsenic free’ papers,  were found to contain very high levels indeed. Public confidence never recovered and green walls went out of fashion!