Plants vs. Winter: The Origins of English Conservatories
Your ruthless Viscount patron has commissioned a heinous new poison. Your stores of toxic cuttings and seeds are running low and the backyard garden is blanketed with snow. Dear assassin, how will you grow the plant ingredients you need?
This dilemma developed while writing my historical novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, set in the early 1500’s England. Yes, my assassin could have simply harvested a sufficient supply of seeds and cuttings during the previous fall. Yawn. She could have purchased supplies from a shadowy figure in the alley. Instead, I had her bartered for access to a solarium.
Since my character exists in early Tudor England, like a good historical fiction author, I began research period solariums only to find the word didn’t exist until about the mid 1800’s.
A quick find and replace later, my assassin’s solarium transformed into a greenhouse.
Problem solved, right? Find out from my guest post at the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog
Finding Writing Inspiration From History
Engineers, Authors and Assassins – Thriving in a Nontraditional Field.
Men have accomplished most “firsts” in history, but there are some notable exceptions. A woman invented Kevlar. A woman discovered pulsars. A woman wrote the first computer program. More surprisingly, the world’s first serial killer belonged to the more “fragile” and “demure” gender.
I first came across that fact last fall: the world’s first serial killer was a woman.
The statement struck me. Even as a modern, non-traditional gal, it contradicted my expectation. My mind pondered what had motivated a female from Gaul to pursue such violence in AD 54. What possessed Locusta to reach so far beyond expectation, to fulfill her sadistic cravings with poison? Where would she have learned her craft? How would she have honed the alchemy? The musings manifested in my historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane.
While outlining the novel I set in Tudor England, I realized 16th century society would have shared my same expectations in this regard. And in a field where clandestine activity is required, a female assassin probably used being underestimated to her advantage.
I’m blessed to live in a century, and country, where the opportunities afforded to women are nearly boundless. (Of course, I would never condone an illicit career in real life.) As an aerospace engineer and a flight controller in Mission Control, I am grateful to the generations before me who knocked down so many barriers and enabled my career.
But today’s society still carries expectation and I know what it is to be underestimated. Raised to believe I could do anything, this was an animosity I didn’t foresee when I selected engineering as a major. I never expected to encounter prejudice.
Continue Reading at Women Writers, Women’s Books
The Life and Bizarre Death of “Necro-Entrepreneur” Locusta, the World’s First Known Serial Killer
Little is known about the world’s first serial killer, which is perhaps why accounts of Locusta’s death are . . . eccentric?
Here’s what we do know: Locusta hailed from Gaul, the outer province of Ancient Rome now known as France. Trained in herbs, she mastered the system of “patronage” and made a name for herself as a reliable assassin – or as Dr. Katherine Ramsland calls Locusta’s business, “necro-entrepreneur.”  To Locusta’s benefit, Rome brimmed with wealthy, would-be-patrons, eager to hasten the death of rich relatives. These clients also reliably bailed Locusta out of prison when events didn’t unfold per plan.
Continue reading at Dirty, Sexy, History
16th Century British Furniture Primer
Hearing approaching footsteps, my character knows she must not be discovered with the poison in her hand. Rushing to her intended victim’s bed chamber, she hides behind the…
Uh… What does she hide behind? What furniture would have existed in a 16th century noble bedroom?
Such plot questions often send me into a consuming spiral of research, and this one was no different. But I vehemently maintain perusing Tudor history websites counts as writing – it’s for research! And at least it’s more easily justified than scanning my Twitter feed.
Unfortunately, however, as the prominent British woodwork journalist, Charles Hayward, truthfully writes of England:
“…[T]he troublous times through which this country went in the Middle Ages certainly enabled destruction to carry out its work of waste. An army marching through an enemy country would spare little that came its way, and even in peaceful times the outbreak of fire must have been an ever-present source of danger. Domestic houses are invariably built of timber and, as the fire on the open hearth is almost never allowed to go out, being just fanned to a flame every morning, the chances of the building catching fire is high.”
In addition to the likelihood that furniture was destroyed, few pieces existed to begin with. During the medieval period, furniture was sparse and a symbol of status and wealth resulting from the scarcity of wood and skilled artisans.
However, Henry VIII began to change this. The King benefited from the frugality of his predecessor, Henry VII, and used the Crown’s amassed financial reserves to outfit his palaces with luxurious furniture. Cardinal Wolsey shared the King’s fondness for lavish spending and an inventory of Hampton Court records once listed 280 beds.
During Tudor England, a well-off master bedroom contained a bed, a chest to hold clothes, and possibly a cupboard. Beyond the bedroom, homes of nobility usually also contained a large table, a chair for the owner of the house, benches and stools for the rest of the household, a cupboard, and a chest. Poorer souls often only had a mattress and stools or benches. It was not until later in Queen Elizabeth’s reign that wealth and prosperity became more commonplace and yeomen famers were able to purchase additional pieces of furniture. But what did Tudor furniture look like? As with most historical questions, the few surviving pieces, writings, and artwork can help us piece together the past.
Continue reading at the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog.
The Inspiration Behind Apricots and Wolfsbane
From Anne Williams:
“I find I’m reading an increasing number of historical fiction books these days – and I find they rarely disappoint me. Sadly, I just can’t manage to read them all – but I was particularly intrigued when K.M. Pohlkamp contacted me about her debut, Apricots and Wolfsbane, published by Filles Vertes Publishing, and subtitled “A Historical Thriller Inspired by the World’s First Serial Killer”….”
Continue reading at Being Anne