I’m delighted to be able to share Elen and Roland’s story with you.
The first thing Roland remembers after being injured at the First Battle of Ypres is waking up in a hospital room at the Temple of Healing in Trellech. Over the following weeks, he is tended by a series of nurses, none of whom stays more than a week or two. He never sees the healer assigned to his case – and worse, he has heard nothing from his family.
Elen just wants to keep nursing. Sent home from the Front after a bad concussion and ensuing migraines, she knows that taking whatever assignment she is offered is her only option. Even if it’s a decidedly odd assignment – the sole nurse tending to an unusual patient. Together, she and Roland must figure out what is going on with his Healer, how to make sure he gets the care he needs to recover – and how to remember to have hope again.
Carry On is full of quiet resolution, knitting, and compassion. Set in the spring of 1915, it takes place early in the Great War.
(Paperbacks and library options will be following shortly, keep an eye out at my newsletter for when they’re available.)
If you’ve been by here in the last week, you’ll notice a few updates around here.
A new page for the books
These include more information about each series, and quick links to the books in order. (Here’s the main books page, the Mysterious Charm series page, and the Charms of Albion page.) Let me know if there’s more information you’d find useful here.
I know that there are some things you might not be in the mood to read (right now or ever), and also that some of you might be particularly interested in finding books that focus on certain things or characters. I’ve got a shiny new content notes page that fills in some of this information. (It does include some spoilers, though I’ve tried to avoid them as much as I can.)
If there’s something I haven’t covered, or something you’d like more information about, you’re always welcome to write and check with me.
I’m working on a way to more easily share some additional information with you, like maps and timelines. Keep an eye out here and elsewhere on social media for updates.
I’m delighted to share Pastiche with all of you. Join me for a romp in 1906 (pre-War Edwardian) to explore the history of two people who’ve appeared in the Mysterious Charm series, Lord Richard and Lady Alysoun Edgarton.
There’s an arranged marriage (that might turn into a true love match), a bit of smuggling, a curious museum exhibit, and a couple of my favourite secondary characters yet. And if you’ve wondered how magical duelling works in Albion, this is the book for you!
One of the things I love most about writing about Albion is being able to weave people through different books.
Sometimes this is in a big way. All the books in the Mysterious Charm series deal with people who are friends or allies or co-conspirators (as the case may be) with Lord Geoffrey Carillon.
But sometimes it’s more subtle.
Take Farran Michaels, for example. He first appears (if you read the series by number, which isn’t chronologically in time) in the first chapter of Goblin Fruit as one of the young men apprenticed to the auction house. He turns up later in Magician’s Hoard as a representative of the auction house (he’s now a more senior apprentice).
But how did he get there? And what’s with his particular gift for materia and objects? That’s where Seven Sisters comes in. While it’s his uncle who’s the hero of that book, Farran’s present for much of the action.
I love being able to tuck those little touches in. Albion is a sizeable community, but it’s not huge. With only a few more academically focused magical schools, people who went to those schools tend to know each other. Others interact in significant but small professional communities.
And, as an author, it’s a lot more fun to do a passing mention of a character I’ve already gotten to know in passing, rather than Random Standin#42.
Readers new to the series with that book should be able to follow everything, but people who’ve read and remember other books in the series should get a little bit of extra amusement, seeing a story from a different side.
It’s also a fun way for me to introduce characters who will be relevant in later books I’m already planning to write. You’ll be seeing more of a couple of guests from Carillon’s dinner party in On The Bias down the road, for example.
There is of course, one place right now where that’s a little trickier: Goblin Fruit and On The Bias. It’s very hard to disentangle Carillon (Lord, investigator, and Pavo breeder) from Benton, his valet. However, I also enjoyed the chance to see a bit more of Benton’s very real skills and talent, and to learn more about why Benton has chosen that role and service for some very good reasons.
As you’ve noticed if you’ve read Outcrossing, there are magical creatures in my books, as well as the ones we all know about. There are, broadly speaking, three categories.
Animals we know and love
These include your average ordinary wildlife – badgers, hedgehogs, ponies (Well, most of them. There are some magical ones, too.) Birds, snakes, lizards, all sorts of other beasties.
A magical variant
Sometimes there are magical variants of a given type. For example, the nightjar is an actual bird (with a very unusual sort of sound – you can hear an American cousin clearly starting at about 1:10 on this recording.)
This piece in the Guardian about nightjars (and other fauna of the New Forest) delighted me, and describes them as “somewhere between a kestrel and a crocodile in appearance”.
Twilight nightjars, however, are magical.
They sound like the non-magical variety, and have the same shape. And nightjars do live in the New Forest. But where the non-magical species are usually brown or buff, the Twilight Nightjar is more like the darker varieties of a Victoria Crowned Pigeon, with a good splash of iridescence. Their feathers and eggs are used in various magical potions and workings.
And of course, we have varieties of magical creatures who either live in Silence-warded spaces (so, fully magical), or like many creatures in our own world are not often seen.
These include wandermists (a cat-sized winged dragon that appears to be largely made out of mist), or the ginsies, which are poisonous to about half the people with magic (via an extreme allergic reaction, not that Carillon and Rufus would put it that way.)
Perhaps my favourite are the mirabiles, who live in the deepest parts of the forest, and are rarely seen, but look like dancing lights that sway and twist together. They’re decidedly animals, not Fatae, but they must be where some tales of faeries in the woods come from.
(One of these days, I would love to have illustrations of these. If you’re an artist this intrigues, glad to talk commissions with you and see if we can come to a mutually cheerful agreement.)
Albion has a host of seasonal and agricultural festivals. Some are more celebration than anything else, others are about specific magical commitments tied to the land.
In our world, you’ll sometimes see this festival called Lughnasadh, a festival devoted to the Irish god, Lugh. It was often celebrated with games and competitions and stories, as a connection to the funeral games he held for his foster mother, Tailtiu. (Lugh himself is neither particularly associated with the sun or the harvest: he was a god who was known for being skilled in many ways.)
However, while there are a number of harvest rituals around cutting the first of the corn in Great Britain, there isn’t good evidence for a pan-Celtic festival, whether dedicated to Lugh or to anyone else. Cutting the first corn is a common element, but some places have links to ritual plays, others to bonfires, some are up on a hill, some are down near water…
In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, there’s another name, and one that came down through the Christian church, later: Hlaef-mas, which became Lammas. This might involve baking a loaf of bread, breaking it into four pieces, and crumbling each piece in the corner of a barn to offer protection to the grain about to be stored there.
It was also a great time for harvest fairs and gatherings, before the heavy work of the harvest began.
A word about corn and grain: In historical works in and about Europe, you’ll often see the word ‘corn’ used. This is actually a generic word for grain. It usually means whatever the main form of grain was in that area – wheat, oats, rye, barley. What Americans think of as corn (the thing that grows on ears in kernels or that you can make popcorn from) is maize. Here’s some more about that.
In Albion, part of being Lord of the Land is the tie between your energy and the land you are stewarding and protecting. You can see Carillon at May Day, doing his part in Outcrossing, and the upcoming Pastiche has some other brief mentions. (This draws on some old theories about the land being tied to the ruler, that is a whole other blog post or series of them.)
These customs vary place to place, village to village, and of course season to season. I haven’t figured out the details for the grain harvest, but I know there is one. And it involves bread.
I’m doing a (virtual) get together with friends of like mind on Saturday, and we’re all baking bread to talk about. I’m making cottage cheese dill bread (something like this recipe), though I usually bake mine as a round rather than a loaf. I’m a dill fanatic, but other herbs work really well in it too.
A bit more to enjoy:
- An overview of the lore
- A recipe, lore, and plentiful photos of the early harvest
- Ronald Hutton’s book The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.
One of my early readers, reading Pastiche, asked me “Did Giles and Richard know each other before the War?”
(Giles being Major Giles Lefton, hero of Wards of the Roses, and Richard being Lord Richard Edgarton, who appears in Wards of the Roses and On The Bias, and who gets the story of his own romance coming up in Pastiche.)
They’re both upper class, well-educated, competently magical men in a relatively small community, so yes, they’ve been moving in similar circles for a good while.
They are, however, a generation apart in age.
Albion is not a massive community. Sparing you my spreadsheet of demographics for the moment, the community is roughly 250,000 people in the 1920s. There are about 200 families who hold a title (usually Lord of the Land ) and probably another 300 or so who are upper class and possibly of the minor aristocracy (cadet branches of the titled family lines, and so on.)
(Those aren’t the only positions of power, of course. The Mysterious Power series will be getting more into some of that.)
Their families: Richard, obviously, has a title, and comes from one of the noble families. Giles doesn’t, but comes from the minor aristocracy. His family have multiple properties. He’s well off enough personally that money is not an issue for him. They were both in Fox House at Schola, so they share at least one club, and probably more than that one.
They certainly have run into each other at various social events (such as the Temple of Healing garden parties, a major source of fundraising for the Temple). An amicable but distant sort of acquaintanceship.
When did they meet? I suspect they didn’t know each other terribly well until Richard – or someone else Richard knows in the Guard – needed Giles and his mathematical brain for a spot of code-breaking. At that point, of course, these two intelligent, practical men would find common cause pretty quickly. It’s a relief when you find someone competent who can do the thing you need to solve the problem at hand without fussing.
I am quite sure that was before Giles became blind, however. Richard is, at times, still figuring out how to handle some of that smoothly, in a way that wouldn’t be as true if they’d only met after that point.
I’d guess they met sometime in 1913 or 1914, in the buildup to the War, but I haven’t pinned that down yet.
 Yes, women can have the equivalent position, though most families inherit via male primogeniture if that’s an option. I do plan to talk about this in more detail sometime!
I got a great question from one of my early readers as he worked his way through Pastiche (coming soon to an ebook seller near you – likely August 7th or so.)
His question: “Where is Trellech? I’m not finding it on a map.”
There’s an excellent reason it’s hard to find. Trellech does still exist as a village in our world but it’s a tiny thing compared to what it once was. Also, in Welsh it’s Tryleg, and in English, one of about four options: Trellech, Trelech, Treleck, or Trelleck.
Trellech is in Monmouthshire in Wales, northeast from Cardiff and just west of the river Wye. (Here’s a map.)
It was one of the major cities of mediaeval Wales. Around the 1230s, the de Clare family established it as a major manufacturing town, producing iron and coal for munitions manufacture (as everyone of the period was deep in the wars between Wales and England).
The de Clares had been powers in that part of the world for some time – William de Clare established Tintern Abbey in 1131. (This fact brought to you largely because I’ve been to Tintern Abbey, and think it’s gorgeous.) If you read much history around these centuries, you’ll find the de Clares thoroughly entangled in it.
At its height in the late 1200s, it’s thought Trellech had about 20,000 people in it, making it larger than Cardiff, Chepstow, or a number of other cities in England and Wales. (By 1300, London was about 80,000 people, to put that number in perspective.)
However, a raid in 1291, and then the calamities of the 1300s did the city in (multiple rounds of war, the Black Death, and raiding), as did the eventual fall of the de Clares who used it as their main base of power.
Much of the remaining city was destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr in the early 1400s, and the rest got largely lost to history.
When I started writing the Albion books, I knew I wanted to find somewhere which disappeared from the historical record around the time of the Pact in 1484 (give or take half a century), and I spent time looking at places that might suit.
I’m not Welsh by ancestry (alas), but I have longstanding fondness for Wales and the beauty and resilence of the country and people. My mother grew up elsewhere in the UK, but moved to Cardiff as a teenager, and went to university in Bangor (where she met my English father). I grew up on the stories of both those places, and the occasional childhood visit.
So, I was browsing online, considering options, and looking especially in Wales. Then I stumbled on a project from Stuart Wilson who bought a swath of land, hoping to discover the history of the early city. You can learn more about the subsequent archaeological work, too.
I’ve obviously taken quite a few liberties with Trellech’s history in my books, but not nearly so many as I might, since there’s so much rich history.
We’ll be spending more time in Trellech in the upcoming Mysterious Power series, as the first book is set in the Temple of Healing in the heart of the city.
Do you have a question for me? Send me a note through the contact form (or one of the social media options) and I’m glad to see about answering it. I won’t share spoilers, of course.
It’s an odd time to be talking about something as lighthearted as a romance book, but I write in large part because having hope the world can change is such a powerful thing.
Seven Sisters is the story of Vivian, an investigator with secrets of her own, and Cadmus, keeper of his family country home turned boarding house. Cadmus would much rather be spending his time on his translation projects, but a serious of mysterious and dangerous events has him worried. For himself, for his nephew, and for all his residents.
When Vivian arrives to investigate, things start accelerating, until Vivian and Cadmus must confront their assumptions and past histories to avoid danger to everyone in the household.
This book is also of interest if you’ve wanted to learn more about the Fatae (the fae of Albion, or at least some of them…).
Learn more on the book page, including an excerpt, or you can buy it directly from the links below.
And other online stores are in the works – find them all here as they’re available. (If your favourite isn’t there, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.)
Making the world a little better
I’ll be donating a third of my income from release week (plus some additional money from my own day to day budget) split between the following two causes.
We Love Lake Street for rebuilding after the immense destruction there. (As I mentioned last newsletter, that’s near my old neighbourhood where I still have a number of friends, and many of the business are owned by immigrants and people of colour.)
The NAACP Empowerment Program, which supports training, education, and advocacy as a voice for communities of colour.
There are so many other amazing organisations who could use time and money. If you’re able to, I hope you’ll find a way to contribute to the important work going on to make the world better for everyone.
I hope the world treats you gently, and that you have time for good reading, whatever it is you choose.
More accurately, it’s been out for a week, but that means it’s past time for a little note on the blog.
On The Bias is the book I’ve been referring to as “valet and dressmaker foil plots” along with three dangerous birds. It turned into a glorious chance to see how Thomas Benton, valet to Lord Geoffrey Carillon, sees the world. Loyal, extremely competent, and very observant, he turned out to be glad to talk about a number of topics that Carillon just brushes past.
This book has a lot of details that amuse me in it. 1920s fashion, of course, has a lot of fascinating details (I remain a fan of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries as a show. It’s delightful, but also a complete pleasure to watch. The book series it’s based on is also great fun, though some of the long-term arcs are quite different.)
It also owes one of the central plot points to a chance online discussion, as often happens.
My editor, Kiya, was talking to a friend who had been reading machine-translated versions of romance novels, and the technology had decided to translate a particular explicit phrase as “He suddenly had a difficult rooster”.
Kiya inquired if I might perhaps work that into a book. I’d actually already been looking for what kind of illegal setting Benton might find himself in, searching for more information, so I said “Sure! Cock fight it is!”
And then of course, since I do like my thematic unities, I ended up inserting two other sorts of dangerous birds (swans and Theodora, the Eurasian eagle-owl). This of course meant a lot of necessary research and watching videos of falconry and swan upping. The lot of the author is often equally delightful and weird.
If you’re interested in images that I used as inspiration for Cassie’s dresses (along with some other images of interest), check out the Pinterest board for On the Bias
I’m hoping to release Seven Sisters, the last book in the Mysterious Charm series in May 2020 – we’ll see what the world holds! I’m currently writing book one of the Mysterious Power series, Carry On. You can get updates on what’s in progress on my coming attractions page, and I’ll be sending out some other tidbits via my newsletter.