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.
When times get difficult, I find a great deal of solace in reading. If you’re the same, and haven’t read my first book, Outcrossing, yet, you can get a copy for free. (Please feel free to share with anyone who might enjoy it.)
You can sign up for my mailing list if you’d like, but it’s not required. (And while I also deeply appreciate reviews, there’s no obligation here.) Though if you do sign up for my list, I have some future treats planned. The link takes you to BookFunnel, and you can download the book in your preferred format. They offer great technical help if you need it.
The offer is good at least until Massachusetts public schools reopen. Right now, that’s April 10th. You can also share it on Facebook or Twitter if you’d like.
Join Rufus and Ferry in magical Albion’s New Forest of 1922. Ponies, smugglers, daring escapes.
Rufus survived the Great War, but he’s on the verge of losing his New Forest cottage, his ponies, and any chance of a future. He’s willing to take the risk of doing a job for the local smugglers using his powerful but poorly trained magic. Ferry is doing her best to escape an arranged marriage, but she doesn’t know what to do next. Once they meet, everything changes, and together they must find a way to get Rufus out of the grasp of the smugglers and protect the forest they both love.
(One content note: Rufus lost both his parents to the Naples Scourge, aka the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918. It’s mentioned briefly.)
What do I write?
Hi, I’m Celia Lake. That’s the pen name for a librarian who lives and works in the Boston, Massachusetts area.
My books are set in the magical community of Albion (a parallel community to the history we know), in the 1920s.
I write about the 1920s for a lot of reasons – the rapid social changes, the conflicts between tradition and modernity, the clothes. But I’m particularly drawn to them because it’s a time when we, as a world, were remembering that there was hope after the awful times. After war, after epidemics, after disasters, there could still be hope, and still be love.
I write about the magical community of Albion, a world within a world of the British Isles (specifically England, Wales, and Scotland. Ireland is politically a bit more separate in the magical community.)
My books are romances with plots anchored around a mystery or puzzle. I have plenty more planned, and I release a book about every three months.
- Outcrossing: Smugglers, New Forest ponies, and daring escapes
- Goblin Fruit: Lord Geoffrey Carillon and Lizzie find themselves investigating a dangerous magical drink.
- Magician’s Hoard: An archaeological queston leads to unexpected revelations, making Ibis and Pross wonder why everyone wants this particular treasure.
- Wards of the Roses: A manor reappears after several hundred years. Giles (blinded in the War) needs the help of competent Guard Davies to investigate.
- In The Cards: A gathering on a remote island turns into a murder investigation, leaving Galen, Laura, and Galen’s friend Martin scrambling to find the culprit.
- On The Bias: Benton (valet) and Cassie (dressmaker) must work together to foil plots and make sure Lord Carillon’s wedding can go off as planned.
- Forthcoming books over here.
- My newsletter gets the first new about new releases as well as fun extras and tidbits.
The idea for Goblin Fruit was actually the first idea for the series. Long story short, it came out a fannish project where we were coming up with books and works that might have been read.
I have loved the Dorothy L. Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books since I first read them (sometime in my early teens), and Lord Geoffrey Carillon is very much meant to be cut from a similar cloth as Wimsey.
They’re both intelligent men who underplay their brains to be more effective investigators in varied social circles, and they’re both younger sons of respected noble families. And they both had a bad war that included some amount of intelligence work in the midst or aftermath. But Carillon has inherited the title (and its obligations), and had to return from his explorations abroad to take over his duties. That, naturally, includes finding someone to marry so there is a next generation.
I’m also fascinated by Christina Gabriel Rosetti’s famous poem, “Goblin Fruit” about two sisters, one of whom tastes the food and drink of the trooping goblins and is enchanted, saved by her sister’s loyalty. That formed the core of the plot for this book, figuring out what kind of magical temptation would be there, and how Lizzie and Laura would deal with it.
I wanted to talk about tuberculosis. I knew from the beginning that part of the reason Lizzie was so protective of her younger sister was because Laura had been in poor health for most of her adult life so far. The more I thought about it, the more tuberculosis – still a very present threat in the 1920s before the discovery of antibiotics – was the thing I needed to talk about. I love how that plays into part of the solution of this book (skills that Laura learned from long years in sanitariums and dealing with medical staff) and how it plays out in Laura’s own book, In The Cards.
Other bits of worldbuilding: This was also an excuse to explore non-human magical beings (there is more of that to come, in various ways), and I loved the idea of exploring a magical costume party. (The women dressed as Upper and Lower Egypt may well make a further appearance down the road…)
It’s the end of the calendar year, and that feels like a great time to recommend a few books I enjoyed this year, in the hopes that you might like some of them too.
As a librarian, I always feel sort of weird about recommending books without a conversation about what someone’s looking for. What I like might be quite different than what you like, for all sorts of great reasons. On the other hand, sharing things I enjoyed is fun.
So please take this in the spirit of ‘you might find these interesting’ and if you don’t, that’s fine! Read what makes you happy.
A note: The Amazon links are affiliate links (if you buy through them, I’ll get a small referral fee). I’ve also linked to GoodReads, for those who prefer other sources.
I am such a fan. These are books about people being good to each other (if sometimes in rather unexpected ways), and thoroughly rooted in the times and places they take place.
(Check out her website for much more, also interesting blog posts, and some free stories.)
New reads this year included:
- Any Old Diamonds (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Proper English (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Henchmen of Zenda (Amazon, Goodreads)
- The Rat-catcher’s Daughter (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Gilded Cage (Amazon, Goodreads)
(I also reread An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, and An Unsuitable Heir, as well as Think of England and Band Sinister. They’re very much comfort rereads for me.)
My favourites are probably the Think of England/Proper English duology, but it’s a hard choice.
I was hooked on this one as soon as I saw the comment of it being an Agatha Christie mystery with a m/m romance. It’s utterly delightful, both parties are dealing with their past history, the eddies of village life are delightfully detailed. Good fun.
I love the Reluctant Royal series for great characters, intriguing situations, and the fact that people do (eventually) deal with things like adults with a thought about the long-term. This f/f novella is a second-chance romance with a secondary character from the first book.
A f/f novella in the Worth Saga – I have not caught up on those, and this was a fun read even without that background. Courtney Milan has a great knack for character, for making complex plots flow well, and for anchoring the story so you can roll around and enjoy it.
The Burning Cove series by Amanda Quick and Jayne Krentz
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Amazon, Goodreads)
- The Other Lady Vanishes (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Tightrope (Amazon, Goodreads)
Three books are out now, with a fourth to come in 2020 (Quick and Krentz are the same person, she uses her pen names to differentiate series.)
Loosely tied into some of the Arcane Society books, these can be read independently, and also independently of each other (characters from other books in the series will turn up, but there’s plenty of explanation of them in context.)
I love these books for the tight focus on place, and a grand sense of the time (a resort town in 1930s California, to be specific). There’s a bit of everything here – murder, mystery, espionage, a touch of magic (stage and otherwise), and of course romance (m/f in this case) with competent stubborn heroines.
An anthology where all the stories feature an underwater ballroom of some kind. I picked it up because I’ve been enjoying the magic and society of some of the other Stephanie Burgis books, but I enjoyed every story in this collection in some way. Some are more romance, some more fantasy, or science-fiction, but it’s a great theme.
Third, and apparently last in a series about Greta Helsing, doctor to monsters. I’ve really loved the worldbuilding in this series, from the various patients Greta sees, to the implications of society for the undead and very long-lived. This book starts with Greta taking over temporarily as head of a very posh spa for mummies in the south of France.
There are romances in the series (more than one of them!) but while there are happy endings, the books make more sense to me if I read them with my fantasy-reader hat on rather than my romance-reader hat.
A collection of Seanan’s short stories, some of which I’d read in other sources, and some of which new to me. One of the things I love about her work is the range – and there’s a little bit of everything here, from fantasy to horror (mostly the medical side) to her deep love for folklore and ghosts.
I’ve been trying to broaden my reading of other people writing about the 1920s, and I love the Perveen Mistry books (currently two are out, this is the second). These are mysteries, with occasionally romantic elements.
The main character is a lawyer who read law in England, and returned to India. At the start of the series, Perveen is Bombay’s only female lawyer, and extremely well positioned to assist with cases that involve women, especially those who (for various religious and social reasons) do not interact with unknown men.
A fascinating immersion in the time period and places, and a host of interesting characters.
(Content note: the first book includes domestic violence and abuse in the context of Perveen’s marriage.)
A book I love for the depth of magical theory worldbuilding inherent in the system. (As it were.)
Alex Stern is the survivor of a multiple homicide. Recruited to come to Yale due to her particular gifts, she is thrown into a life she has to figure out – and fast. Apprenticed to learn the skills needed to keep Yale’s other secret societies magically in line, the book is told in a series of current and flashback stories, as she tries to get her footing.
Content note: This is a very dark book, and lots of awful things happen – murder, abuse, manipulation, degradation, humiliation, and rather a lot of revenge. However, it’s also a book about what we do with power, what we do when other people have power and we don’t (or don’t have power they’re paying attention to, anyway…) If you’d like a more specific breakdown, a number of the Goodreads reviews have details on the content warnings.
Best wishes for 2020
I hope you have lots of time for great reading in 2020, whatever it is you choose to read (and I’ll have more books coming out then too!)
I’m so excited for the release of this book. In The Cards is out now. As I write this, the Amazon editions are up, and others are rolling out. Join Laura, Galen, and his best friend, Martin, as they deal with Galen’s match-making mother, a brash American, a murder, and far too many family secrets.
Writing a locked room murder mystery turns out to be a lot harder than I’d guessed, and the editing process involved adding three full chapters and a couple of half chapters, as well as moving a bunch of pieces around.
But I love Laura, and Galen, and Martin, and the varying ways they interact. Coming up with (at least part) of a Tarot deck suitable for the story was also a great deal of fun, and something I’ll be continuing to explore in other books as it’s relevant.
I’m planning a few posts here (and on Facebook) with some further thoughts about both the locked room mystery parts and the Tarot parts of this story over the next few weeks.
(And if anyone reading this is an artist and interested in trying their hand at illustrating some Tarot cards, drop me a note through the contact form….)