New covers for The Shadow Queen and a suitcase of research books

 herald 2 copy

Tra la!

Here’s The Shadow Queen cover for the U.S. Anchor paperback edition, coming out in January:

Shadow Queen Anchor (US) ppbk cover

It’s almost identical to the hardcover cover, which pleases me very much, since it is so very striking, my favourite cover ever.

I am curious to see what HarperCollins Canada comes up with; their intention is to create something quite different.

As for different, here is The Shadow Queen cover for my Sandra Gulland INK edition, by the ever-so-talented Kris Waldherr.


It should be ready to launch soon. I’m toying with the idea of publishing print editions as well as digital. We shall see.

Suitcase of books

With this last suitcase of research books now unpacked, I’m very nearly settled into my office in San Miguel de Allende. Time to get to work! I’ve a Dec. 1 deadline for The Game of Hope, and that will be upon me sooner than I realize.

Have a wonderful weekend! I hope you’re reading something delightful. I’m reading a rather horrid little book on the virtues of being tidy. More on this later. The author does make some good suggestions.

Last day in the bunker, first day of my 70th decade


Today is our day to pack up, for tomorrow we leave first thing, heading to Toronto. On Thursday late afternoon, we’ll be driving into beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.


I’m always delighted to arrive in San Miguel, but I’m also always sad to head south—sad to leave my library of research books, my lovely office (“the bunker”) overlooking fields and forest. It’s a difficult process. In the next 6 months I’m going to be finishing The Game of Hope as well as beginning the next Young Adult about Hortense (tentatively titled The Princess Problem). What will I need? It’s so hard to know.

Today I will finish going through all the piles of papers and books I’ve stacked up, decide what must come, what can stay, and what should be scanned into Evernote. The life of a Historical Novelist Snow Bird is made much easier with computers and the Net (there is so much more on-line now), but there is still a surprising amount I must take with me.

And … !

Today is my 70th birthday! My party was two days ago; it was wonderful and I feel splendidly fêted. It had a 60s theme (because I was in my final days of being a 60-something), the costumes were fantastic and the playlist I put together—with the help of this site—kept us rocking ‘n rolling all night. Old folks grooving!

Most special, our son Chet made a surprise visit from New York!


Frankly, I was a bit depressed for a time about the approach of this shocking milestone (What?! Me, elderly?!), but now I feel that there is something quite energizing about turning 70. One realizes that it’s time to begin to focus on what’s important. I feel it will be my most creative decade.

Bring it on!

Embarking on draft 4


Revision is daunting, and each revision is daunting in it’s own way. It always feels like a strange and unwieldy process. How to begin? Where to begin?

I began by making a list:

  • easy changes
  • harder changes
  • hard changes

When starting out, it’s best to begin with easy changes, and work up to the more challenging ones.

I was stopped in my tracks at the first heading. What was the name of Hortense’s school? What was it called at the time?

This simple question plummeted me into Google-land research, which, in the way of the Net, opened up wondrous worlds.

Then, of course, I was compelled to post to my research blog, Baroque Explorations:

Handwriting samples: Napoleon’s, Josephine’s, and that of Christophe Duroc. 

On-line research: subscription publication—an 18th century method of fund-raising?

Yes, a form of procrastination, I know.


It just now occurred to me that my deadline is five weeks off, and that I am travelling for most of it.

Full stop.

I believe it time for me to make a list of essential changes, never mind easy, harder and hard.

As Napoleon would say: Basta! Get to work!




Paris: research adventures, food & wine, French class & Smart Board infatuation

My husband and I have been over two weeks in Paris, and today is our last day here. 

I’ll be spending much of it in the library of La Fondation Napoleon, but I’m tempted to slip in an hour as a flâneur this morning, strolling the book stalls by the Seine … and perhaps even take some photos.

I’ve not taken many, in part because it has been very much a working trip.

For the first two weeks I was in class at l’Alliance Française Paris.

photo 3

At level B1, I was in way over my head, but the teacher was fantastic, very charming, and so I persevered—and I’m happy I did so. I’m less shy now about speaking French, and in another ten years … who knows? By the time I’m 80, I might be able to understand what people are actually saying.

In any case, I was absolutely enchanted—besotted!—with the teacher’s Smart Board. This technology is years old, but it blew me away. I had no idea! On a Smart Board a teacher can move images around, write, move words, scroll, call up videos, play audio, switch between pages, connect to the Net: anything.

Immediately I thought: every home needs a Smart Board. More to the point: I need a Smart Board. Imagine outlining a novel on it, calling up character images … ! Seeing a Smart Board, I felt the same kind of revery I experienced first seeing a computer. What a tool!

When I wasn’t in class or frantically preparing homework (or eating fine food and drinking fine wine), I plunged into research. Our first weekend in Paris it was the Journées du Patrimonie, when many historic places are opened to the public. I wanted to see inside the Petite Luxembourg Palace, where Josephine, Napoleon and “the kids” — Hortense and Eugène — lived before the move to the Tuileries.

The lines and crowds were overwhelming, and the public was only allowed into a few rooms of the Petite Luxembourg, but I did see the room believed to be the one Napoleon worked in.

Nap's office in Petit Lux

Of course, it would have been a bit thread-bare then.

The Luxembourg palace itself is, of course, amazing. Here, the library:

Lux library

It would have been quite a bit different just after the Revolution, of course. It had been used as a prison, and had no doubt been vandalized.

Also around Paris, I searched out sites:

—the location of La Chantereine (discovering how very long the lane way must have been);

—where the mother of a character killed herself during the Revolution;

—where Talleyrand lived (and gave a ball);

—where Napoleon’s brother Lucien Bonaparte lived (and likewise gave a ball).

And, of course, the Louvre, where I lingered by portraits of my characters.


I loved seeing the glittering detail of Josephine’s gown up close:

Louvre shoe detail

Venturing out-of-town, we went to Château de Grignon, the home of Hortense’s best friends (and now a school)…


… and to Joseph Bonaparte’s country château Mortefontaine, where I was very very lucky to connect with the owner and be given a private tour.


Mortefontaine      Mortefontaine hallway Mortefontaine staircase

Last, we went to Saint-Germain-en-Laye where I was again very lucky that a former resident was kind enough to show us into the place where Madame Campan’s school used to be. Much of it is new, but there are some remnants of the former Hôtel de Rohan:


In the back garden, there was this intriguing bit of antiquity:

Campan mystery rock

A bit of the former chapel, perhaps?

Of course, as is always the case with travel research, I discover that I have quite a few changes to make in the next draft, which I will begin next week. But until then, time to flâneur.

Honey, figs and red dove feet: cosmetic secrets of the Middle Ages


A blog post on—Medieval Mean Girls: On Sexual Rivalry and the Uses of Cosmetics—reveals a treasure trove of diaries about the jealousies and beautification efforts of women in the late Middle Ages. It is fair to assume that such rivalry continues on through time.


  • Lipstick: red dove feet mixed with brazil wood and alum
  • Toothpaste: nutmeg
  • Nail polish: henna

Here are some priceless quotes:

Is there here any lady among us who does not wear cosmetics or cream on her face, or uses depilatories, or cara de diable? How they sorrowfully take off that cream, and put on snake and lizard water. Oh, they sin greatly those who act so vainly, in order to please men.

Well, does she wear white powder on her face? Truly, up to her eyes! And, blush? In excess! Her eyebrows [are] well tweezed, high and arched, her eyes made up. Her forehead [is] scraped clean, and even her entire face –the big and tiny hairs– with pelador de pez, turpentine, and chamomile oil. Her lips [are] very red, not natural but from red dove feet mixed with brazil wood and alum. Her teeth were brushed with nutmeg or scrubbed with styrax, an herb from India. Her nails [are] stained with henna and grown long, longer than those of her pinkies, also stained white, and she even covers them with gold. Her face [is] shiny like a sword […]. She puts ten different foundation creams on her face, one after the other, once each day, and when she doesn’t have them on she looks like an Indian heathen.

All the year long she is mewed up at home … she anoints her face with gall and honey, with parched grape and figs crushed and pressed together … … she has such breasts, being a maid, as if she had been the mother of three children; and are for all the world, like nothing more than two great pompeans, or big bottled gourds. Her belly I have not seen, but judging it by the rest, I verily believe it, to be slack and as flaggy, as a woman of fifty year old. She had a room full of distillation vessels, wide mouthed and narrow necked flasks made of clay, glass, copper, or tin, made in a thousand different ways. She made sublimate, cooked-up make up, face-paints, lipsticks, llanillas, lotions, waters to make the face glisten, to cleanse the skin, alvalines, and other tonics, made of shavings of daffodil, wood bark, cittibush, tarragon, galls, sour grapes, [and] grape must, distilled and sweetened with sugar…

Whoever wishes one’s face to be beautiful should constrain the blood from flowing towards it. With wine and food both subtle and tasty, the fig in this case is wonderfully good, as is date water and honeyed foods. And if from chicken pox one’s face is marked, use an ointment from cheese, honey, and salt. And an ointment of cetrina [cerrusite, camphor, and oil mixed with citron] is very good for this. And if one has freckles or discolorations on one’s face, a myrrh wash is beneficial.