Saturday, May 15, 2021

Deliriously Rose

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Spring makes me giddy, and nothing about it makes me giddier than roses, and especially the English ones. 

                                   (Munstead Wood with Graham Thomas, Lady of Shallot in the back.)

I've been trying to trace the history of this love affair. It didn't start in childhood, that's for sure. I don't remember us having any roses when I was growing up. My dad planted bedding plants and flower pots, and my mom didn't garden at all. There was a glorious Lady Banks on the fence of the garage apartment where I lived in college--maybe that was the first. Then fast forward through houses and years to this house, twenty-six years ago, and the first few mail-order roses. Only two survive, a mystery pink hybrid tea, and this Simplicity from Jackson and Perkins.

Many more followed. Some thrived, some didn't, but I was hooked. Then a few years ago we lost most of them to the rose rosette virus.

Anyone with any sense would have folded at that point and replanted with something entirely different, but I'd discovered the English rose breeder David Austin's roses, and I couldn't resist them.

                                                  (Gertrude Jekyll, Lady of Shallot.)

Graham Thomas was the very first, still with me. (It's the yellow one.)

Just the names of the Austin roses read like poetry:

I have Lady of Shallot. Munstead Wood. Princess Alexandra of Kent. Abraham Darby.

Gertrude Jekyll--named after the Arts and Crafts garden designer, thorny as all-get out with a divine scent.

Benjamin Britten, after the composer, a massive climber in an almost neon coral red.


St. Swithun's, named after a Saxon bishop, another climber. It's a pale, pale creamy pink, and smells like licorice. I love this one so much I gave it to Melody's parents in  A BITTER FEAST. This bloom I put in the little vase on my piano last week--doesn't it look like a painting?


The Fisherman's Friend, a deep crimson, with a glorious old rose scent. This one was my splurge last spring, my pandemic rose.

 


But there are always more, if I can just find a place to put them!

This year I went bonkers and ordered three: Crown Princess Margareta, a gold climber; Heathcliff, a deep red (how could I resist that name?); and Boscobel, a smaller coral pink, named after Boscobel House where Charles II hid during the English Civil War.

I suppose there are worse passions... But it is a very visceral thing--it's like feasting on color, shape, scent, and language. They are calling to me...The Lark Ascending, Charles Darwin, Desdemona, The Poet's Wife...

REDS and readers, is there anything in your garden--or your balcony, or even a pot or a bouquet, that makes you swoon?


 





Friday, May 14, 2021

Davies and West are Back--Will North

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know I have a real soft spot for American authors who write about Britain and do it well, and I count my friend Will North as one of the best of the bunch. Will has the same deep attachment for Cornwall that I have for London, and he's set some wonderful novels there, including a wonderful series featuring the irascible Cornish detective inspector Morgan Davies, and her Scene of Crimes manager Callum West.

MURDER ON THE COMMONS is the fourth Davies and West book, and it was certainly well worth the wait. I'm sure Will has struggled as I have during the pandemic with being unable to visit the much-loved setting of his book. But Will has had other and greater obstacles, as he will explain.


 WILL NORTH: Morgan Davies and Calum West are back!

Murder on the Commons,” the fourth book in my British mystery series, releases May 17. There was a three-year delay between book three, "Trevega House", and this one. But it wasn’t writer's block. It was cancer. Two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of bone marrow cancer. I went through three unsuccessful cycles of chemotherapy. The last resort, stem cell replacement completed at the end of February, was successful at last!

I’ve always believed the central characters in a series should develop from edition to edition, gaining depth with each professional and personal challenge.  But don’t worry, Detective Inspector Morgan Davies is still her cantankerous self and Scene of Crimes Manager Calum West is still putting up with her. As I wrote and the story unfolded, I was delighted to discover how much more we learn about DCI Penwarren and the rest of Cornwall’s major crimes team. I hope you'll love this aspect of the book, as well.

Now for a teaser: A body is discovered neck deep in an inaccessible bog on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor. The corpse is faceless, thanks to carrion birds, but the body is tattooed. Without a crime scene or motive, the trail feels cold from the outset, but the victim's tattoos offer clues that lead the team on a chase to find a cunning killer.

 I hope you enjoy the twists and turns in “Murder on the Commons.” Write and let me know! 


Will North is the pen name of an international award-winning author and ghostwriter of more than a dozen nonfiction books as well as seven recent novels. He has ghosted books for Bill Clinton, Al Gore, several famous Everest mountaineers, a team of dinosaur hunters, a renowned physician, and others. Two of his books have been the subject of PBS and A&E documentaries. As a fiction author, Will has penned two romantic suspense novels, a family saga, and four books in his Davies & West British murder mystery series. Will lives on an island in Washington's Puget Sound. You can find him at www.willnorthnovelist.com, on Instagram @willnorthnovelist, and on Facebook at Will North, Author.

Murder on the Commons

When a hawk-ravaged head of a body is discovered neck-deep in a Cornwall bog, Detective Inspector Morgan Davies and her Scene of Crimes manager Calum West find themselves equally mired in questions and dead-ends. Who is this badly broken corpse on the grounds of Poldue Manor? How did the body appear there? And why does the Lord of the Manor’s daughter seem unfazed by her gruesome discovery?

Clues diverge and send the investigative team out of Cornwall and across borders as the team finds itself immersed in unfamiliar waters of both politics and romance.

But when shots are fired, there is suddenly more on the line than catching a killer. This time, it’s personal.

DEBS: That is such wonderful news about your cancer, and I am in awe of your fortitude in keeping on with your writing during your treatment. We all wish you the best of health in the future.

Now, the book! It is so atmospheric, the body in the bog!  Such a fabulous cover, and such great characters--I loved getting to know more about them in this book, too.

For all you current armchair travelers, Will be stopping in to chat and I'm sure he can tell you anything you'd like to know about Cornwall. Who has visited? Who would like to visit? Favorite locations?

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Wine for Writers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know how much writers like to get the inside scoop? And you know how much I love wine, right? So today's lovely guest, wine expert Becky Sue Epstein, is a double dip for me and a treat for you. (And I might just have to do a little more research...) But first, let's take Becky's quiz !


WINE FOR WRITERS –EIGHT TRUE THINGS

What do writers need to know about wine? No, that opening won’t work, too boring. They’ll just click onto something else online. Like cute pet pics.

What do writers want to know about wine? Not quite as bad. But these writers are too busy to spend time learning about wine, they just want to magically know.

OK, here’s the deal. Readers depend on writers who care: about their settings, their characters, their research. We readers figure it out pretty quickly. If you’re writing about Paris and you’ve never been there, it’s easy to tell.

If you’re putting wine in your books – and who doesn’t have a sip at the end of the day? – here are EIGHT TRUE THINGS to keep for reference, in order to preserve your readers’ trust that you are the authority in this book.

Depending on your characters, you can choose whether to have them behave according to (mainly incorrect) popular myths about wines, or according to the (perhaps counter-intuitive) reality.

Bonus: you can also use this list to enhance your own real life wine experiences.

 

SETTING THE SCENE:

NOT TRUE: Colorful glassware says you care about wine.

TRUE: Wine afficionados (collectors and experts) only serve wines in clear glasses.

Also, the glasses are tulip-shaped -- the tops of the bowls curve inward -- so the aromas are concentrated in the glass.

WHY: Clear glasses allow diners to evaluate the color of the wine, which is a factor in appreciating the wine.

Aroma is another subtle element that enhances every sip of wine.

TIP: Hold a wineglass by the stem to avoid warming the wine too much. Which means stemmed glasses are great for parties, but actually not necessary on the dinner table. Though they do look elegant.

 

SERVING WINE

NOT TRUE: White wines and sparkling wines must be served very cold. Red wines must be served at room temperature.

TRUE: Take bottles of white wine, champagne and other sparkling wine out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving, for full enjoyment of their flavors and aromas. Put the bottle back the refrigerator or into an ice bucket after 30 minutes.

RED WINES can benefit from a little chill. They are best served at around 60-65 degrees F (15-18 C). Modern kitchens and dining rooms are just too warm. Place a bottle of red wine on a cool window sill, or even in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before serving.

WHY:  Whether red, white or sparkling, all warm wine gets “flabby” – it loses its bright feeling and its all-important flavor balance. And no one wants a blah wine, with or without a meal.

 

STORING AN OPENED BOTTLE OF WINE

NOT TRUE: Always store opened bottles of white wine (not red) in the refrigerator, where they will last for a long time.

TRUE: Red wines, once opened, should also be stored in the refrigerator. But just for a day or so. Red wine starts to degrade, and you’ll wonder why you liked this wine to begin with.

White wines, once opened, will do best in the refrigerator for a few days. Not longer, or the flavors and aromas will fade and deconstruct -- as will the joy of drinking the wine.

WHY: Wines are sealed without oxygen in the bottle. When the bottle is opened, oxygen gets in and it’s only a matter of hours before the wine starts to degrade due to this exposure.

 

WINE WITH FOOD

NOT TRUE: Just serve a wine you like and it will be fine with dinner.

TRUE: When planning a meal, consider (or google) the region where your dish originated, and choose a wine style that also originated there.

WHY:  Originally, wine grapes and food ingredients were all grown near each other, by small farmers everywhere. People in each region have had centuries to perfect their natural wine and food pairings. Makes sense, when you think about it.

TIPS: Turkey and salmon are popular US foods, native to this land. The US was not a country known for its wines until relatively recently in world history; pair these foods with US pinot noir.

Many Asian foods pair well with off-dry Riesling, which is classically from Germany, sometimes from other Northern regions such as the Finger Lakes in New York state.

Also, refer to the winery website of any particular wine you like, because many wineries list food-pairing suggestions.

 

WHEN TO DRINK A WINE

NOT TRUE: all wines should be aged; the older the wine, the better.

TRUE: Almost all the wine we see on store shelves is ready to drink when we buy it. This means it will not benefit from further ageing; in fact it will become less appealing over time.

WHY: over 95% of today’s wine is made to be consumed within 1-2 years after it is sold. Wineries know the optimum windows for consuming their wine, and they make sure to get it into stores at the right time.

 

CHAMPAGNE

NOT TRUE: all wine with bubbles is Champagne.

TRUE: Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France (northeast of Paris), and according to strict regulations. It has been produced there for 400 years.

All other bubbly wines are “sparkling wines.” Not nearly as romantic a name, but true nevertheless.

WHY: Reputable wine producers and regions across the globe have all signed treaties with the French Champagne producers. Some wine regions have their own proprietary names for sparkling wines, even in other parts of France.

TIP: if you see a US wine labeled “Champagne” run the other way – it’s not going to be good.

 

PROSECCO

NOT TRUE: Prosecco is another kind of Champagne. 

TRUE: Prosecco is a sparkling wine made according to strict regulations, in an area centered in the Veneto region of northern Italy – yes, on the mainland near the romantic city of Venice.

WHY: Prosecco is made with different grapes and different processes from Champagne. It has been produced in its home region for about 100 years.

 

RED, WHITE AND ROSÉ

NOT TRUE: color is added to wines to make them red or rosé.

TRUE: The color in red and rosé wines comes from the red grapes’ skins.

WHY: The insides of grapes are white, so all wine would be white if the grapes were lightly pressed, and the skins immediately discarded. To make red rosé and red wines, before being pressed, the red grapes are left in large vats for various amounts of time, depending on the wine, to extract the color and other beneficial elements. 


Becky Sue Epstein is an award-winning wine writer, who has traveled to most of the wine regions of the world. Her expertise includes Champagne, Port, Vermouth and Cognac. She has written several wine and food books, including Champagne: A Global History; Brandy: A Global History; and Strong, Sweet & Dry: A Guide to Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala. Now, she just might be trying her hand at writing cozy mysteries -- with a wine component, of course. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. For more answers to wine questions, readers of this site can email her at Becky@BeckySueEpstein.com

DEBS: How'd you do on the quiz, REDS  and readers? This was so much fun, and I did pretty well, although I don't always abide by things I know to be wrong, like how long you can keep white wine in the fridge...

And I get in big trouble in my books when my characters need to drink French wines--I can definitely use a boost to my education. Becky's books are now on my resource list, but she's going to be answering readers questions here on the blog today!

Welcome, Becky!