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Archive for October, 2015

Fun at the Frost Fair

Let’s travel back in time…

Imagine yourself in England—London, to be precise. It’s almost Christmas or Yule, and it’s cold. There’s an air of excitement because the Thames has frozen over. Traders are rubbing their hands together. Local residents are anxiously watching proceedings. Children are gleeful because if the cold snap continues, the ice will be thick enough for a Frost Fair.

So what is a Frost Fair? Here’s the scoop. The old London Bridge caused the water to run slowly and during cold conditions the water froze, sometimes for months. When the ice was thick enough to support weight, the frozen Thames became a playground. Locals played games and skated on the ice. Local traders set up booths and the crowds flocked to the Thames to join in the festivities.

I write historical romances set during the 18th century, a little before the official Regency period. If the characters from The Spurned Viscountess and Mistress of Merrivale were to travel to London for the Yule season they might go shopping for trinkets and gifts to give their loved ones.

The Thames froze over during these years in the 18th century: 1709, 1716, 1740, 1768 (a little frozen), 1776, 1785 (a little frozen), 1788, 1795. Source~Wikipedia.

So let’s get back to the fun.

Jocelyn and Leo Townsend from Mistress of Merrivale are strolling on the ice. Leo has his daughter’s hand firmly in his grasp. Cassie’s eyes are wide as she gazes at a juggler. Then a puppet show grabs her attention. Jocelyn laughs and together, she and Cassie drag Leo over to join the crowd.

Once the show finishes, they visit a ribbon seller. Jocelyn buys several ribbons to give as gifts and lets Cassie choose one for herself. Cassie picks a scarlet ribbon and insists that Jocelyn tie it in her hair immediately.

Leo buys cups of hot cider and slices of spicy gingerbread. They meander through the crowds and pause to watch some acrobats. A roar comes from across the way, an animalistic growl and a louder shriek. Jocelyn takes on quick look in that direction and urges Cassie to move on to see the sailing ship, stuck firmly in the middle of the ice. There’s no need for Cassie to catch a glimpse of the bear baiting.

The scent of cooking meat fills the air while men and women shout of their wares. “Hot beef here!”

“Oranges! Oranges!”

“Buy Frost Fair prints here!”

Occasionally, the ice creaks. A group of children jeer at a hunchback while three young maids giggle and clap at the antics of a strolling minstrel.

The hour grows late, and Leo, Jocelyn and Cassie make their way to their carriage. Cassie goes to sleep on the way home while Jocelyn cuddles against her husband’s side. His hand rests on her rounded stomach, and they both laugh softly when their baby kicks. A family outing to the Frost Fair ends with love and a snatched kiss just before the footmen opens the carriage door, and Leo hustles them inside out of the cold.

Note: The last Frost Fair took place during the winter of 1813-1814 when the ice was thick enough to lead an elephant across the river near Blackfriars Bridge. New innovation during the Victorian era increased the flow of the river and ended the entertainment known as the Frost Fair.

Sources: London by Peter Ackroyd, Georgian London, Into the Streets by Lucy Inglis and Daily Life in 18th Century England by Kirstin Olsen.

Mistress of MerrivaleMeet Jocelyn and Leo in Mistress of Merrivale – order at Amazon http://amzn.to/1eW93rW

Jocelyn Townsend’s life as a courtesan bears no resemblance to the life she envisioned in girlish dreams. But it allows her and her eccentric mother to live in relative security—until her protector marries and no longer requires her services.

Desperate to find a new benefactor, one kind enough to accept her mother’s increasingly mad flights of fancy, Jocelyn is nearly overwhelmed with uncertainty when a lifeline comes from an unexpected source.

Leo Sherbourne’s requirements for a wife are few. She must mother his young daughter, run his household, and warm his bed. All in a calm, dignified manner with a full measure of common sense. After his late wife’s histrionics and infidelity, he craves a simpler, quieter life.

As they embark on their arrangement, Leo and Jocelyn discover an attraction that heats their bedroom and a mutual admiration that warms their days. But it isn’t long before gossip regarding the fate of Leo’s first wife, and his frequent, unexplained absences, make Jocelyn wonder if the secrets of Merrivale Manor are rooted in murder…

Warning: Contains mysterious incidents, a mad mother who screeches without provocation, scheming relatives, and a captivating husband who blows scorching hot and suspiciously cold. All is not as it seems…and isn’t that delicious?

13 Facts About Dragons

Thursday Thirteen

I’ve been in a dragon frame of mind recently, and I’m excited to be part of the Flight of Dragons box set, which came out this week. In honor of the release, my TT this week is about dragons.

Thirteen Facts About Dragons

1. Dragons can be grouped into three groups: Earth dragons, Water dragons and Fire Dragons.

2. Dragons are warm-blooded creatures since they control their body temperatures internally. They are not dependent on the sun in the same way as other reptiles.

3. Dragons live for a long time and are more likely to die from an accident than old age.

4. Dragons prefer a natural environment rather than cities filled with pollution.

5. Dragons are the largest known flying creatures.

6. Dragon bodies are covered with tough, shiny scales. They can make them stand on end if they want to preen or groom themselves.

7. Dragons are fastidious and take care to keep skin and scales immaculate.

8. Dragon colors come in three broad color groupings. Blue – ranging from mother-of-pearl and silver to dark blue. Red – copper red to dark red and reddish black. Green – every shade of green, yellow, dark brown and burnished gold.

9. The dragon father or king is the head of the family and other dragons pledge their allegiance. He adjudicates in disputes.

10. Water dragons live in salt and fresh water and are extremely agile in the water.

11. According to legend, water dragons only eat human virgins and if they can’t find suitable food, they suffer excruciating indigestion, which can lead to death. This dietary need has contributed to their dwindling numbers.

12. Dragons are skilled in the art of magic. They also have a love of music and possess an excellent sense of rhythm. A dragon’s voice has a bewitching effect on humans.

13. Dragons love treasure and acquire valuables through fair means or foul.

Flight of Dragons

Flight of Dragons is available for 99c for a limited time from all online retailers. Grab your copy today!

Read an excerpt of Blue Moon Dragon, my contribution here.

Soruce: The Book of the Dragon by Ciruelo

Home of the Cult of Zeus

Olympieion, Athens

Hubby took this photo of the Temple of Zeus from the Acropolis, and as I mentioned in my photo post of the Parthenon, the day although fine was hazy. These stone columns—the ruins of the temple—are immense. You can just make out the people dots to get a prospective of the size. This is the largest temple in Greece and dates back to the 6th century BC. It took over 700 years to complete due to financial problems (yes, they had money shortages way back then too!) Hadrian completed the work in AD 131.

The temple is very impressive both from the Acropolis and from ground level. I almost wish I could time travel back to its heyday in order to see it complete. It would have been a sight.

Note: For those who are traveling to Athens, the admission fee for this temple complex was included in the price of the Acropolis ticket.

Dragons and More Dragons!

It’s release day for Flight of Dragons.

Nine scorching tales with sexy as sin fire-breathing dragon shifters.

Nine scorching tales with alpha males.

Nine lucky heroines!

Flight of Dragons_500x750

Grab your copy today: Amazon| Kobo| Nook| iBooks|

Artist Trading Cards: Tiny Masterpieces

Charlotte Dixon, the heroine of One Night of Misbehavior is interested in design, and before her grandmother became sick, Charlotte was studying to become a graphic designer. Charlotte and her grandmother try all sorts of crafts and Charlotte enjoys making artist trading cards.

So what is an artist trading card?

They’re original and small works of art on cardstock—the size of a playing card. The idea is to collect and trade with other artists. Here is a link to my Artist Trading Card board at Pinterest to give you an idea of the scope of the cards. http://pinterest.com/shelleymunro/artist-trading-cards/

Follow Shelley Munro: Author’s board Research: Artist Trading Cards on Pinterest.

At first Charlotte uses the ATCs as a way to express herself and play with different techniques, but when Ash Marlborough, the hero in One Night of Behavior offers Charlotte a job, she finds new applications for her hobby. She uses the idea as a part of an ad campaign for a motorcycle shop.

These days the trading cards are used by artists, people doing crafts and more recently, authors have printed ATCs to use for promotional purposes. http://romancetradingcards.com/

If you’d like to try making your own artist trading cards visit this site for some helpful hints and instructions. http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Artist-Trading-Cards

One Night of MisbehaviorOne Night of Misbehavior by Shelley Munro

He wears his scars on the outside. She keeps hers safe inside.

Charlotte Dixon ignores her stepmother’s edict and, in an act of disobedience, attends one of the social events of the year—a masquerade costume ball. Charlotte’s naughtiness escalates when she dances and smooches with a sexy mystery man. The night of anonymous passion that follows makes her yearn for a different life, but the next day she’s back to her dull routine of household management.

Advertising tycoon, Ash Marlborough is about to set a private investigator on the trail of his nameless princess when she waltzes right into his place of work. Charlotte is shocked to meet her masked man in the flesh, and even more perturbed when he asks her out on a date. Despite craving another night of sexy loving, she doesn’t have time for a man, not when she wants to reinvent herself and grasp a new, improved life with both hands. But Ash knows what he wants, and he’s determined to win the heart of his princess. Let the dance of seduction commence.

Warning: Contains a conniving stepmother, selfish stepsisters, a grandmother with fairy godmother tendencies and a sexy masked man who is willing to face them all for the love of a good woman.

Scrivener: A Writer’s Friend

Scrivener

For years, I’ve been hearing good things about Scrivener, the software for writers. And, for the same length of time, I’ve resisted even considering taking advantage of the trial period of the software because I’m not a plotter. I felt that Scrivener would make my brain hurt in the same way that all the other plotting books and methods and writing software programs do.

Then, one day earlier in the year, a newsletter I subscribe to announced they were offering Scrivener at a special rate for members. It was such a great deal I decided to download the program.

From my reading and the titbits I’d picked up over the years, I knew Scrivener came with a steep learning curve. It wasn’t the right software to write a deadline book. With that in mind, I ordered a copy of Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez. The perfect decision.

I stumbled my way through starting my first book, using Gwen’s book as a bible. Everyone was right. I didn’t find the program easy to master, and I still haven’t worked everything out. I’m learning new things all the time and read as many online posts with tips and tricks as I can fit into my busy days.

Where I thought my brain would freeze, it hasn’t. I used to write in Word from the start of my book until I finished. Now, I think more in scenes, and this is forcing me to analyze my scenes in greater detail. A good thing, I think.

So, pros and cons.

Pros:

1. Everything is in one place. The writing, the setting, the character sketches. I don’t have to stop because I can’t remember a character trait or name. Now it’s all there and easily assessable. If I have a senior moment, the info is one click away.

2. I like the tools that come with Scrivener. I can set a manuscript target, a daily writing target and see my progress. There is a dictionary and a thesaurus. There is also a character name generator. Very handy!

3. As I’ve mentioned already, I now write in scenes rather than chapters and this forces me to analyze my scenes more than I ever have before. It’s easy to shift scenes around or write out of order if I get stuck.

4. Once I’ve finished writing and polishing, I can compile my scenes in a format ready to publish as an ebook. Scrivener has a variety of templates and outputs, which I haven’t experimented with yet, but I can see that they might be useful.

5. Backups are quick and easy, and the auto backup setting—brilliant.

Cons:

1. The steep learning curve. There is no doubt that this is very true. Some people will find Scrivener frustrating and give up on it because it isn’t an intuitive program to learn.

Conclusion:

I’m so glad I purchased this program, despite my misgivings. I’m a huge fan now, and the more I use the program and learn about it, the more I like Scrivener. Scrivener is available for both Mac and Windows users.

If you’re a writer, not necessarily a fiction writer, but any type of writer, I’d recommend giving Scrivener a try. They have a free trial for their program, so definitely experiment. You have nothing to lose.

A Trip to Alaska

Thursday Thirteen

Last month hubby and I spent a fortnight in Alaska. Alaska is one place in the world, which is still a real wilderness. It is beautiful.

Thirteen Things About Alaska and Our Holiday

1. Alaska is the largest state of the USA, but is sparsely populated.

2. We visited Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier National Park and Whittier, all places with limited connection by road. During the summer though, tourists flock to these towns via ferry and cruise ships.

3. Ketchikan is known for its rain but during our two visits (we cruised up from Vancouver to Whittier and back down to Vancouver) we had sunshine. It’s also called the salmon capital of the world, although Mr. Munro would dispute that fact since his fishing trip was a bust.

4. In Ketchikan, we wandered along Creek Street, the previous red-light district of the town and checked out the salmon returning to spawn. Lots of the salmon had died already and seagulls picked over their carcasses.

Ketchikan

5. From Ketchikan, we did a float plane flight to Neets Bay. There is a salmon hatchery there and it’s a favored place for the black bears to fish.

Beer at Neets Bay 

6. Our next stop was Juneau and the excursion I was looking forward to most. Here we did a helicopter ride to the top of Mendenhall Glacier and went dog-sledding. We had so much fun and now I’m obsessed by all-things dog-sledding.

Dog Sledding

7. Skagway is another frontier town and it has its roots in the Klondike goldrush. The boardwalks and wide streets were full of tourists. During the summer, the locals must become tired of wandering tourists who stop in the middle of the street, right in front of vehicles.

8. Glacier National Park is 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, rain forest, fjords and wild coast line. It’s pristine and beautiful. We saw a glacier calving, sea otters and seals. Breathed in lots of fresh air!

Glacier

9. Whittier was the turnaround point for the cruise where some passengers left and others joined. Whittier is a city but the population as at 2014 was a mere 217.

10. From Whittier, we went on a bus tour. A tunnel (the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel) connects Whittier with the Portage Glacier Highway. The tunnel is 2.5 miles long and is used by both rail and road vehicles. Access to the one-way tunnel is run by a strict schedule on the hour from Whittier and the half-hour from Bear Valley.

11. We visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This 200-acre center provides refuge for orphaned, injured and ill animals—ones that are unable to survive in the wild. They also release animals such as elk and bison back into the wild. We saw bears, porcupine (the cutest things), elk, wood bison, a wolf, an eagle and musk-ox. I really enjoyed our visit here.

12. On our return to Skagway, we hired a car and drove up to the Yukon. The fall colors were starting to show, and once we drove above the mist and clouds that covered the mountains, we had gorgeous weather. This is a shot taken not far from Carcross.

Yukon

13. One of the highlights for me was seeing all the different animals. Whales and otters, seals and salmon, black bears and brown bears, eagles and the husky dogs. A part of me would love to visit during the winter, just to see how cold it really gets. If you haven’t had a chance to visit Alaska, do put it on your bucket list. As the biggest state, there is heaps to explore and they have good local beer.

A Black Cat Crossed the Road

Cats

What do you think when you see a black cat?

Do you mutter about superstitions and run screaming in the opposite direction or do you rub your hands together and watch approvingly while the black cat prowls past?

Is a black cat good luck or bad luck? I decided to research the subject for a definitive answer. Detective Shelley is on the case!

In Egypt all cats, including black ones, were held in high regard. Laws protected cats and when a pet died, the entire family would mourn. Both rich and poor families embalmed their deceased pets. Archaeologists have discovered entire pet cemeteries with mummified black cats fairly commonplace.

Fast forward in time to the Middle Ages. Cats overpopulated all the major cities. Any woman who owned or fed a stray black cat ran the risk of accusations of witchcraft.

Throughout history, black cats are blamed for causing disasters ranging from blasphemy to plague. Even today black cats get bad press and conjure up images of witchcraft and magic. Poe wrote about one, Hollywood makes movies and television series about them. Heck, even I write about them with my Middlemarch Mates series.

There are hundreds of superstitions associated with cats, probably because cats and humans have lived alongside each other for thousands of years. Let’s look at some of them.

A cat sneezing is a good omen for everyone who hears it. ~ Italian superstition.

If a cat washes behind its ears, rain is coming. ~ English superstition.

If a cat mews and appears cross, the ship and its passengers will have a hard voyage. ~ Sailor’s superstition.

A strange black cat on your porch brings prosperity. ~ Scottish superstition.

If you wash a cat, it will rain. ~ Indonesian/Malaysian superstition.

If you dream of a white cat, you’ll have good luck. ~ American superstition.

If you kill a cat, you’ll have seventeen years of bad luck. ~ Irish superstition.

In tasseography (tea-leaf reading) a cat signifies false friends and deceit or someone lying in ambush.

In the Netherlands cats were banned from rooms where private family discussions were taking place.

In Egypt it was thought the life-giving rays of the sun were kept in a cat’s eyes at night for safekeeping.

And of course during October, the silhouettes of black cats decorate many houses and shops for Halloween.

So what about black cats? Are they good or bad luck?

Well, it seems it depends on where you live in the world. For example in Britain and Japan having a black cat cross your path is considered good luck. If you live in the USA or in European countries you definitely don’t want a black cat strolling by because bad luck will surely follow. Now if you live in New Zealand, near the town of Middlemarch, seeing a black cat mightn’t be such a bad thing, especially if you’re a single girl looking for a man!

Note from Shelley: Look for My Scarlet Woman, book 1 in my Middlemarch Shifters series, which is coming soon. This is a reissue with some new content and brand new covers.

What do you think about black cats? Do you think they’re good luck or bad luck? Do you have any cat superstitions to add?

Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Athens

Many years ago, well over twenty, hubby and I visited Athens and the Acropolis. We’ve visited Athens since, and during our visit this year, we decided to check out the Acropolis as part of our “culture rule”. Actually, it’s my culture rule. I drag hubby to visit some sort of historical building or site and then he’s allowed to try out the food and drinks in the local markets, pubs and restaurants. That way, we are both happy.

We were on a Mediterranean cruise and caught the local bus from the port to the center of Athens as early as we could. A wise decision, as it happens, since we beat all the groups of tourists doing the tour thing. Our photos of the Parthenon, as you can see, are people free, although I did pick up a local tour guide!

We found the Acropolis and the Parthenon much the same as we remembered them. The view over the city is stunning, although very hazy on the day we visited. Experts are doing restoration, hence the scaffolding you can see in the rear.

We purchased a combined ticket, which gave us admission to the Acropolis and several of the surrounding historical sites. It was a fun day, but I was very glad of my comfy shoes since we did lots of walking.

Note: If you’re visiting Athens and the Acropolis, don’t miss the Acropolis Museum at the base of the hilltop citadel. It’s well worth the visit.

The Terrifying Taniwha

Flight of Dragons

I was brought up hearing tales from Maori mythology. Everyone in New Zealand knows of Maui who fished our country from the sea. One particular beast from the legends has always fascinated me, and that’s the taniwha.

The taniwha (pronounced tan-e-far) is a Maori monster, a ferocious beast that ate naughty children and devoured warriors and other hapless people who found themselves in the wrong place.

If I were to describe a taniwha to a non-New Zealander, I’d say they were a water dragon since many taniwha live in lakes, rivers and the sea. According to my research, they were often called lizards by the Maori people. In Maori mythology, lizards are symbols of death and the appearance of one is an ill omen. Our New Zealand lizards are small, but the idea of a large one inspired fear in everyone.

While most taniwha lived in water, some made their homes in caves or under mountains. Those earthquakes—caused by a taniwha! Some of the monsters could fly while others were capable of traveling underground. Some taniwha looked whale-like.

Local Maori tribes were able to appease taniwha with offerings of food, and they received protection in return. But the taniwha were known to turn on their benefactors if the food supply dwindled or wasn’t good quality. Beware the grumpy taniwha!

Occasionally a man or woman transformed into a taniwha after carrying out bad deeds. Sometimes the transformation happened due to bad luck.

Taniwha can talk, which makes for easy communication, although I understand their growls can be fearsome too. The other thing about taniwha is that they like to take human wives and aren’t above stealing them if the opportunity presents itself.

I used the legend of the taniwha in my dragon romance, Blue Moon Dragon, which is part of the Flight of Dragons box set. Flight of Dragons is available for pre-order and releases on 13 October.

Here’s the blurb:

On her 25th birthday Emma Montrose decides it’s time to show bad boy investigator, Jack Sullivan she’s more than an efficient secretary. She’s a woman with needs, and she wants him.

Jack is a taniwha, a shifter, who requires women to satiate the sexual demands of the serpent within. Nothing more. Then work forces the reluctant Jack and ecstatic Emma undercover as a couple. Thrown together, pretence and reality blur generating hot sex laced with risk…

Of course, I changed the legend to suit my story. Jack, my taniwha, is a private person and working with Emma pushes his buttons in a big way. He’s fighting both his own taniwha instincts and Emma’s enthusiasm. I fear he’s fighting a losing battle!

Source: Taniwha, Giants and Supernatural Creatures by AW Reed and Ross Calman