Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Royal Gossip Tuesday--another Duke of Cambridge

Last Monday I planned to talk about another Duke of Cambridge, but I got side tracked into another William and Kate story. I'll try not to get side tracked again about the latest sighting at Wimbledon, but I have to say 1. Her dress was fabulous and so appropriate and it sold out online in half an hour (she should start her own clothing line and could finance the whole royal family), and 2. didn't they look happy together? Turning to each other to share comments that made them both smile. So different from the early days of Charles and Diana--she the blushing and tonguetied bride, he indifferent and supercilious.

Anyway,  the title of the Duke of Cambridge has not existed since the last duke died in the early 1900s. He was a Prince of Teck. Cousin to Queen Victoria. Now it gets complicated. The son of this duke, Prince Adolphus of Teck, younger brother to Queen Mary of England and later styled Marquess of Cambridge, had an affair with Rosa Baring Arkwright and this affair produced a daughter Vera.  Vera's mother Rosa, of the influential banking family Barings, wanted out of a loveless marriage and secured her divorce after the birth of this child. But Prince Adolphus was already married and thus Rosa was married off to a royal relative for respectability.  So Vera grew up as the recognized child of a royal. She lived a glittering, if bohemian lifestyle, friend to the Duke of Westminster, Winston Churchill and other luminaries of the time. But her real claim to fame came when she volunteered as a nurse in WW1 and becamse friendly with fellow nurse Coco Chanel.

Coco and Vera formed a close friendship and Coco was shrewd enough to realize that Vera opened the doors to English society to her. Vera became Chanel's business manager. Together they conceived the idea of the blending of masculine and feminine in haute couture. They borrowed tweed jackets from the Duke of Westminster and even used Queen Mary's jewels to accessorize the outfits.

So why I am so fascinated with all this? Because my heroine, Lady Georgiana, goes to the Riviera in her next book. In my research I looked up who might have been on the Riviera that summer and learned about Coco Chanel and Vera Bate Lombardi and their fashion show and the queen's jewels. Too good to ignore for a mystery writer. And so this book will include fact more outlandish than fiction. That's the fun of research.  Oh, and the book is called Naughty in Nice. It's out September 6th.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

From New Orleans

I'm sitting in the hotel lobby, waiting for the shuttle to take me to the airport after attending the ALA convention yesterday. What a huge, overwhelming event. I gather that 30,000 people were in attendance. It certainly felt that I was signing that many books yesterday.

I had a panel on the new Miss Marples which was fun, then I had to rush the entire length of the convention center to sign at the MacMillan booth, then rush over to Penguin to sign at their booth. Then back for another panel. Luckily Elaine Viets handed me a salad or I would have died of starvation. Long lines for signing at each of the above and quite a few people who read this blog. I was asked more than once about whether I had gotten the smell out of the Moroccan bag. Answer is that I'm trying perfume next week, having tried all the others. The smell is almost gone but I'd like to get rid of the faint linger.

The reviews on my hotel were not stellar--a mention of bed bugs in May. So Carolyn Hart and I came prepared to strip off all bedding, open all drawers etc. Luckily our room was pristine (this after we had been sent to a room with one double bed and had to come back down again!)  But poor Libby Fisher Hellmann had to change her room twice--first awful mold smell and air conditioner not working properly, then the dreaded bed bugs, and THEN the airconditioner died in her third room. This was not a grotty hotel. It was a major chain and I may even mention their name if they are not careful.

It's very hot and steamy and I abandoned the trolley ride through the Garden District I was going to take. The only signs of Katrina were single houses standing amid green where whole blocks used to be. And when you stand on the levee you see how vulnerable this city is--just a few feet of dirt to keep out that mighty river and the city lower than the water level. A disaster waiting to happen all the time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Royal Gossip Mondays. On The Duke of Cambridge, what to call Kate, and the royal life.

You all know by now that Prince William and his wife have been made Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. So Kate is not officially Princess Kate and I realize that I must turn to my trusty book to look up forms of address in case I meet her. One addresses a duke and duchess as "Your grace." However not a royal duke. He is "Your royal highness," and thereafter "sir."

Kate is not a princess so I"m not sure whether she is an HRH (Her Royal Highness) officially. I'll need to check on that. Does one call her "Your grace?"  One must be correct about these things. Too many historical novels have been hurled across the room by me because someone calls a king "Your highness."  (He's Your Majesty) or gets the whole thing wrong with Lady Jane Phipps, Jane, Lady Phipps and Lady Phipps.   (It is the difference between the wife of a peer, a baronet and a knight)

I have a book with a wonderful table of precedence--who goes into dinner before whom, who sits where at the dinner table--is a bishop above a duke? Tricky question. Bishops rank equally with normal dukes, but below royal dukes. It's amusing for people outside England to read this but I suspect it still matters to those people who are giving dinner parties for dukes and bishops. And of course in the time I was writing about, the early 1930s, it mattered an awful lot. This is still the time of the great houses, oodles of servants, idle young men like Bertie Wooster, hunts, croquet parties, tea on the lawn and that enviable lifestyle of the aristocrats.

Or was it so enviable? My granddaughter and I were watching Pride and Prejudice for the zillionth time this weekend and she commented how everybody played the piano. I pointed out that girls were not educated, apart from playing the piano, speaking French, sketching and embroidery.
"How boring," she commented and she was right. Their lives were mainly ones of boredom, of filling in hours until the next meal and hoping that someone would come to visit and someone would eventually marry them. Preferable to the lives of those who worked in the dark satanic mills but not enviable to most of us.

Of course the current Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are not living this kind of life at the moment. They are in a four bedroom house without servants in one of the more desolate parts of Britain. Okay, I know as a Welsh person I should be extolling the beauties of Anglesey, and it is very lovely, but it can be extremely wet and windy too. I remember countless summer holidays when it was too wet to go out and we were forced to take walks anyway.  So Kate is facing a few gales, shopping at the supermarket, cooking their meals and I expect she's loving it.

I don't know how I wound up here when I started with the Duke of Cambridge and I was going to share some snippets of delicious gossip about another Duke of Cambridge. But that will have to wait for next Monday now.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Wot No Comments?

I've heard from several of you that you have tried to comment on my posts but couldn't post your comments. You wondered if comments were restricted to followers etc.

This is absolutely not true. Anyone is free to comment and I welcome anything you have to say (unless you want to tell me I'm a rotten writer, in which case the comment section is closed to you !!). I went into blog settings and double checked that I had clicked all the right buttons and there should be no problem with anyone leaving a comment.

So next tme you can't get through, please email me through my website or post your comment on my facebook page and I'll see it gets added to the blog.
I hope you have a glorious weekend. It's sunny and mild here. Perfect for the outdoor art show we're going to today.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It's a Small World

Like most writers, I am obsessed with my stats. I check my Amazon rankings and go away in despair or elation. The number of books I sell means that my publisher either loves me or won't renew my contract. So it's fairly obvious that I've started checking my blog stats--the most interesting of which are where my visitors come from.

USA, Canada, Britain, all fairly obvious. Australia--I'm pleased about that. But Russia? Pakistan? And even Iraq? I am intrigued. Who in Russia or Pakistan or Iraq is interested in what Rhys Bowen is doing? Maybe the interest is in following the British royals. Maybe countries without royalty have a yearning for the pomp and pageantry that goes with a royal family. But it makes me realize what a small world we live in.

My books are sold in some wildly diverse countries. What do readers in South Korea get out of Lady Georgie's antics? What do readers in Finland or Portugal, both of them staunch republics, think about my royal tales? Italy I can understand as these are essentially slapstick comedies with romance and bodies thrown in , and that definitely appeals to the Italian soul.

I suppose that is the wonderful thing about books. They let us travel vicariously. They let me shiver in the Russian winter with Martin Cruz Smith--without having to experience frostbite in person. They take me to China with Amy Tan and offer insights into the Chinese way of thinking that I could never get as a mere tourist. I've crossed the African plains with Beryl Markham, and enjoyed Botswana with Alexander McCall Smith. And I feel that I now know Sweden after those Girl With books.

So we as writers have a great responsibility. We don't just entertain. We provide insights into the workings of our worlds. It behooves us to get it right. Because when we learn about people in other countries and other ways of life we see them as human just like us and there is less chance that we can view them as potential enemies. We writers are also the peacemakers. Awesome responsibility!

What are your feelings? Do books open up the world to you?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Copy Kates--lastest royal updates

I'm back to my royal gossip Mondays, because people have been asking where they've gone.

And this is a good Monday for royal updates because it was a double whammy weekend for the royals. First the trooping of the color for the queen's official birthday. She used to look splendid riding side saddle in her colonel's uniform, but now she plays it safe and rides in an open coach (although knowing her horsewoman's skills, she could still ride bloody well if she wanted to).
Then yesterday it was the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday. Yes, ninety. Doesn't he look good for his age? The royal family attended a church service of thanksgiving at Windsor before family festivities.

And on both occasions all eyes were on the newest royal, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. (you know she's not really a princess, don't you? Just a duchess at this stage, although she's married to a prince). And she looked stunning on both occasions--elegant, understated and oh so fashionable. She either has a knack for knowing the right thing to wear or some terrific advisors. She still looks so happy and relaxed as if she was born to the role. And she is doing wonders for the British retail fashion industry. If she wears something, similar items sell out of high street shops within hours. A new phrase has sprung up in the fashion world--Copy Kates.

The other thing I like is that she quite openly recycles clothes and hats, knowing that we're in a tough economy and extravagance would be frowned upon. Frankly it doesn't matter how many times she wears something--she still looks gorgeous, and in a way it seems magical to me. When she was first photographed with Will she looked like a nice, pleasant ordinary girl. Now she comes across as a stunning beauty--of course she's had help with hair and make-up and diet along the way, but I think it's the radiance that does the trick. She's clearly happy. Isn't it terrific to have something upbeat to blog about?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Smell--part deux

Those who know my books know that I don't write horror--just good historical mysteries, some with a touch of humor and romance. However I'm now in the middle of a horror story... bring in scary music.

It's called The Smell from the Purse. (raise level of scary music)

Two weeks ago I was in Morocco and they specialize in the loveliest leather you've ever seen--bright colored slippers and purses--hot pink, orange, lime green, turquoise. So I had to have one, even though I had been to the tannery and seen and smelled the process. Can you believe that the pelts are cleaned in vats of lye and pigeon droppings? I'm not making this up. There is an actual profession of keeping pigeons for their droppings in Morocco. And the bag smells as if it had spent its early life in such an environment.

And it wasn't as if I hadn't been warned. My friend Katherine Neville (she of those wonderful books The Eight and The Fire) knows Morocco well. The leather will smell, she told me. But did I listen? Noooo.  I saw this really cute purse, in this years bright orange and I bargained for it. It was only when I had it back in the hotel room that I noticed the lingering odour. So I sealed it in a plastic bag until I got home.

Then I asked for help on Twitter and Facebook. Got lots of wonderful advice--crumpled newspaper, baking soda, kitty litter, leaving out in the sun... all seem to be working. But I think the best tip was from a friend on the trip. He said "spray it with your favorite perfume so that if you smell anything, it will be that."  So I'm about to decide whether it should be L'air du Temps or Fidgi or Anais Anais  ... you see I have old fashioned taste in perfumes.  I'll let you know whether this works or not. I'm determined not to throw the purse away.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Road From Morocco

I've been back a few hours and of course I can't sleep so I thought I'd better blog instead. Lovely trip and many memories to sort out and digest. Thoughts on Spain--they eat lunch and dinner so late because they are really on the wrong time zone. Geographically they are West of Greenwich Mean Time which would make them on a par with UK. But they have the same time as the rest of Western Europe so their noon is really only 10 a.m.  Hence if theyeat lunch and dinner by the sun they are correct. But I find it hard to wait until 9.30 p.m. for my evening meal!  Food was tasty and cheap. Loved the tapas and paella. Everyone in Spain eats masses of meat, especially pork (apparently because they had to prove that they weren't Jewish or Moslem during the Inquisition and it's stuck!)

You can get a litre of wine in the supermarket for 59 cents (didn't taste it so can't say how bad it was), but a beer or wine in a bar is only a couple of dollars. The restaurant where we ate dinner more than once always brought out free tapas to start the meal and on the last night mojitos as a gift to finish off our meal.

It is encouraging to see so many small dress and shoe shops can apparently make a living. Here they'd have been run off by Ross and Dress Barn. Clothes, I mean good clothes, horribly expensive. Spaniards love kids and make a big fuss of them. I'll never understand bull fights. Did you know the bull always dies? He can never be put in the bull ring a second time because bulls are smart and he'd know not to fight.

My favorite place was the Alhambra  (old Moorish castle) in Granada. So beautiful and the setting below the mountains is spectacular. Here's a picture:

Half our group got sick in Morocco. I survived well because I drank a lot of bottled water, cleaned my teeth in it and used my hand sanitizer religiously. The food tasted really good, especially the spicy soups with chic peas and the couscous. The big cities are actually modern and European and the roads are great, but here are some pictures of Fez and the old Medina:

This last is of the tannery, seen from a rooftop. The smell was unbearable and we were given mint sprigs to hold over our noses. The vats take the flesh and fur off the leather, then cure it and lastly dye it. I bought a leather purse and it still smells. Any suggestions for getting out the smell?
Now I need to catch up on sleep. More later.