Tag Archives: Allan’s Miscellany

Ferocious lions and winged bulls

a sketch of the bas-relief of a winged bull with the cover of DEVIL'S RETURNAs I’m working on getting DEVIL’S RETURN ready for publication (I still have to look up a detail about the historical background and write two more paragraphs for the Author’s Note), I’ll give you a snippet from Chapter 2: Alex attends the staff meeting of ALLAN’S MISCELLANY for the first time and tells them about the archaeological wonders he has encountered in the Near East during a discussion about the contents of the next issue of ALLAN’S:

I have very fond memories of the Eglinton Tournament,” Beaton said to no-one in particular.

An amused gleam appeared in MacNeil’s eyes. “As you would, Robbie. As you would.—Will we have something on the impending arrival of Jenny Lind?” Of course, they would. Wasn’t all the metropolis aflutter to hear the Swedish Nightingale sing? Mr. Lumley was to be congratulated for the coup he had pulled off.

MacNeil grinned. “No doubt the eager audience with their raptures will take Her Majesty’s Theatre apart in the next few weeks.—What about you, Crenshaw? Anything new from Mr. Wodehouse?”

So Alex told them about Layard’s latest excavations, and their plan to prepare for his visit later this year. He described the alabaster sphinx that had been found in one of the buildings of Nimroud, and the strange creatures in the bas-reliefs: ferocious lions and winged bulls with human heads, dragons and fearsome monsters with heads of lions, bodies of men, and feet of birds. He told them of the quarrels in the workers’ camp—inevitably, those quarrels were about stolen property or women: an older wife objecting to the purchase of another, younger bride and involving her father, brothers, and cousins; a father who sought a greater bride price from his prospective son-in-law than had been bargained for; or a man who repented his decision of a bride and refused to fulfill his side of the bargain.

“In other words, it’s not much different from the state of marriage in England,” MacNeil remarked with a thin smile. “Conjugal relations being ruled by money, and all that.”

Beaton snorted. “Truly, your cynicism never fails to astound me, Mac. May I remind you that not all conjugal relations are ruled by money?”

“Speaking of yourself, are you, Robbie?” The editor’s grin widened and turned a tad malicious. “But then you had to wait three years until you could wed the divine Miss Marsh.”

The other man gave him a dark look. “I will tell the divine Mrs. Beaton to feel free to brain you with our cook’s best frying pan when you next call on us.”

MacNeil threw his head back and laughed. “And here I was thinking I was safe because you had scruples about hiding my dead body!—What do you think, Crenshaw?”

“About hiding your dead body or conjugal rights being ruled by money?” Alex grinned. “From my experience, I say you are absolutely right about the latter,” he added wryly. “What else is marriage in this country, but another form of prostitution?” For a moment, his mind taunted him with memories of exactly how right MacNeil’s opinion on conjugal relations was in his experience. But, ruthlessly he pushed these thoughts aside. He was no longer that youth who had not come up to scratch because he was merely a younger son, and had thus been cast aside for a better prospect.

His statement had caused some uproar among the men, as those who apparently enjoyed happy marital relations loudly objected to such an interpretation, while the others elaborated on the joys of bachelorhood.

“We will not have anything about conjugal relations in our magazine,” Jon Allan cut in, his voice decisive. “It’s crass and indelicate and would only serve to shock my aunt and uncle.” He gave MacNeil a pointed look. “In all likelihood, Aunt Allan would make my uncle throw you out of the premises. Or she would come after you with a large wooden spoon.”

(The comment about marriage being another form of prostitution is a nod to Thackeray’s THE NEWCOMES, where this is one of the themes that runs through the novel.) (Yup, I simply cannot resist inserting Thackeray references into my stories – in DEVIL’S RETURN, we will even meet Mr. Thackeray himself. And my favorite 19th-century artist: Richard Doyle. *fan-girl squeeing ensues*) 🙂

Glimpses of Victorian London

A sketch of Temple Bar
I’m currently inserting the copy edits for Devil’s Return into the file in order to make the novella ready for release this weekend. What has struck me as I was working through Chapter 2 is that writing the setting of a historical novel to some extent resembles archaeology: you’re trying to reconstruct something that, for the most part, is no longer there.

As has been noted in several reviews of my works, my stories tend to be filled with lush descriptions of the setting, for I simply love bringing a bygone world alive for my readers (I guess this is also one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching the history class in our British Studies program so much). Victorian London is no exception.

What would it have felt like to walk through the streets of London in the 1840s? What were sounds? What were the smells? These were all questions I asked myself when I was developing the idea for Allan’s Miscellany. Thus, to set the scene, in each novella the hero is introduced via a street scene and he is shown making his way to the editorial office of Allan’s.

The hero in Devil’s Return is Alex Crenshaw, who writes for Allan’s as Mr. Wodemarsh, Our Man Abroad. He spent the past years in far-away places, but now he has returned home to England:

Alex entered the City through Temple Bar, which had once been crowned by the heads of executed traitors. The only sightless heads staring down from it now where the two Charleses on their pedestals high up above the bustling street. Arrogantly, their stony eyes watched the efforts of carts, carriages, and pedestrians pressing through the gates. A bleating flock of sheep blocked the path of an omnibus, and the driver swore a blue streak, waving his fist at the woolly blusterers. Passengers were hanging out of the windows, complaining about the delay, while behind the bus a long line of carriages had formed. A hearse, going in the opposite direction to the Strand, tried to pass by and nearly ran down a boardman, sandwiched between advertisements of the latest fabric cleaner and hair water.

The din reminded Alex of an Eastern bazaar, but as for the smell—

He wrinkled his nose.

It would appear that today Fleet Street was permeated by the poignant aroma of eau de sewer.

And that’s what an Englishman calls civilization, he thought wryly. He stepped around a shoeblack, who huddled against a wall covered in advertising posters.

In the rise and flow of vehicles and pedestrians from all walks of life, nobody paid much attention to the tall, blond man walking down Fleet Street, his face deeply tanned by Eastern suns. But then, how could they have known that here walked Alexander Crenshaw, a man whose adventures in America and in the Far East many a reader had followed avidly. Indeed, to his own surprise, Alex had found that in the seven years he had spent away from England, he had become something of a celebrity. Society hostesses vied for his attention, invited him to their balls and parties, and men were eager to talk to him, to invite him to their clubs.

A great bother, all of it, really, yet if it ultimately helped to bring in additional funds for Layard’s excavations, Alex would not complain. He owed the man a lot, so the least he could do was to properly prepare for Layard’s arrival in a few months’ time and to get the newspapers interested in his findings. Writing that column for Allan’s magazine, it would appear, had done the trick.

Further down the street, across from St Dunstan’s, a muffin-man ran his bell vigorously and proclaimed his ware. As Alex walked past him, a whiff of warm muffins and crumpets rose from the street seller’s basket to tickle Alex’s nostrils.

His stomach rumbled and reminded him that it had been a long time since luncheon. For a moment he was tempted to hand over ½ d for a muffin – for surely even without butter, it would have pleased an empty stomach – but then remembered Allan’s warning about the very plentiful dinner that awaited those who attended the editorial meetings of Allan’s Miscellany.

It was strange to think, Alex mused, how long he had been writing letters and reports (to be ably illustrated by Robert Beaton) to the address in Pleydell Street without ever having actually visited that worthy establishment of Allan & Son, Printers & Publishers before.

And now you also know what’s up with that sketch at the top of this post. 🙂 (The sketch will go into the enhanced edition – I was thinking of including a few more sketches done by yours truly in the enhanced editions of both A Tangled Web and Devil’s Return.)

Now I better get back to my copy edits and leave you with a picture of my desk right now (with the Roman romance WIP in the background)

a picture of Sandra Schwab's desk with notebook & copy edits of DEVIL'S RETURN

The dreaded (dratted) copy edits

A Tangled Web – now also available on Kindle!!!

Kopie vonAllansMisc-03-ATangledWeb-Rahmen-kleinerA Tangled Web is now also available for the Kindle (the Nook book will follow soon) (as soon as I’ll have convinced myself that registering a Nook account isn’t terribly and won’t make me cry…) (I’m an artist – I don’t have to make sense *g*).

You can grab it here:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
and in all other Amazon stores

Excerpt from A TANGLED WEB

Kopie vonAllansMisc-03-ATangledWeb-Rahmen-kleinerA TANGLED WEB is already available on Kobo and will become available on Amazon and Nook during the weekend. To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt in which we meet our hero, Lawrence Pelham – and two old acquaintances from THE BRIDE PRIZE. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

On Friday morning, when Lawrence Pelham, comic illustrator, walked along the gallery to the door to ‘the Den,’ the holy of the holies, the editorial office of that illustrious weekly periodical Allan’s Miscellany, he was nearly bowled over by one of his colleagues, who came dashing out of the office, his face brick-red, his mouth quivering.

Mr. Nicklewick was followed by roaring and a shoe that hit Pel’s shoulder.

“Ouch!” Rubbing his offended flesh, Pel poked his head around the door.


“Um,” Pel said. “Nicklewick’s probably already reached Fleet Street at the pace he was dashing along.”

MacNeil, the editor, glared at him. Flushed with anger and breathing hard, he stood, leaning on his hands slapped flat on the large table that dominated the room. His tousled, copper-red hair wafted around his head like a fiery halo and intensified Mac’s look of an outraged archangel. In Pel’s mind rose a black and white drawing of him in antique armor holding a flaming sword while he expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden—Adam was rather short and round and bore a striking similarity to the unfortunate Nicklewick.

“You,” MacNeil growled, “are late.”

Abruptly, the imaginary drawing evaporated.

Pel glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Just forty minutes,” he replied cheerfully. “Could be worse.”

Robbie Beaton, the magazine’s other artist, threw him a warning look and imperceptibly shook his head. His normally cheerful round face was uncommonly grave as he half sat on the table next to MacNeil. In front of them rested a pile of paper and several woodblocks—the material for this week’s issue.

“What has happened?” Pel asked. “Nick’s been—”

“He is a moron,” MacNeil cut in. “A bloody moron who can’t spell his way out of a damned box and who writes the damnedest drivel I’ve ever seen.” He slapped a piece of paper in front of him. “‘Regent Street, a Death Trap.’ A whole damned page on carriage accidents as a result of the wooden pavement. A whole page! Has he taken leave of his senses?” He snorted and answered his own question, “That fool has never had any to begin with!”

“It’s an…um…important topic,” Pel offered cautiously, which earned him a disgusted look.

“Not when the author writes that the wooden pavement—and I quote—‘preys on the flowers of our aristocracy and carries them off to Elysium.’ Really? Really? And he has misspelled ‘prey’ and ‘flowers’.”

Pel raised his brows. “How can you misspell ‘flowers’?”


“Oh,” Pel said. “Oh well.” He reckoned it safe enough to step nearer and deposit the woodblocks with his illustrations for the issue on the table.

“And Nitwit was late handing in his texts, too. They should have been on my table yesterday afternoon.” MacNeil turned to Robbie Beaton, with whom he had founded the magazine seven years ago. “This was the last time we’ve taken on somebody as a favor to somebody else,” he growled.

“Can anything of his be saved?” Pel asked.

MacNeil’s look could have made a flower wither and die on the spot. “An article on the merits of keeping a goldfish?”

“Uh. I guess not.”

“How about replacing it with something on the whole farce of the Irish Arms Bill?” Beaton suggested. “Topical, and given what’s been going on in the Lower House, nobody will mind a biting tone.”

MacNeil glanced at the clock. “No time to send for Mr. Flanders and ask him to produce another piece from Our Man at Westminster. Lives too damn far away.”

“Then let me write it,” Beaton said. “I’ve accompanied Flanders a few times this week. That should do it.”

“Good.” MacNeil nodded. “And a second large cut. One for you, Pel. On…let’s say, the Statue?”

Pel didn’t need to ask which statue the editor was referring to. For weeks now the talk of the town had centered on one statue alone: Wyatt’s equestrian monster of the Duke of Wellington on his horse Copenhagen, which was to be erected on the Triumphal Arch at Hyde Park Corner this very month. Earlier this year the press had been granted a glimpse into the master’s workshops and on this occasion, the proportions of the planned statue had been revealed as well. Unfortunately for Wyatt, the sentiment that bigger is better was not universally shared.

Pel took a pencil from his pocket and reached for Nicklewick’s article on the goldfish. On the back of the paper, he began to draft a quick sketch. “What about…” The hawk-like nose, an outstretched arm. “…uh…shall we say…?” The curve of the horse, barely managing to stand on a minuscule arch.

Robbie Beaton looked over his shoulder. “I like that. Poor horsie; it looks as if it’s standing on raw eggs.”

Pel grinned. “Hmm.”

“How about a few clouds?” Beaton pointed. “Around the horse’s middle?”

A few darker whirls.

A birdie on top of the Iron Duke’s helmet, and a whole row of birds on his outstretched arm.

With a flourish, Pel wrote underneath the sketch, “London’s New Gigantic Bird Perch.” He turned the paper around to show it to MacNeil.

The editor looked at it for a moment, then nodded. “Call it ‘London’s Most Expensive Bird Perch’.”

Pel corrected the title. “What about that pavement thing of Nicklewick’s? If you shorten it and we add a comic illustration—like, the street as a giant monster waiting to devour aristocratic gentlemen—everybody will think it was meant as a satire in the first place.”

“Good thinking. I’ll do that.” MacNeil said. “And Dr. Grant has already sent his article for next week, which we can substitute for Nitwit’s thing on…” He looked at another piece of paper and turned up his nose. “’The Merits of Green Peas.’ Goodness!” His expression darkened once more. “That man will never set another foot in this office!” he muttered. “What else have we got?” He shuffled his papers around. “A review of Gervase Carlton’s latest literary offering. A nice one, that.—An article from Our Man Abroad. More about the diggings in the Near East.” He glanced at Beaton. “We already have an Assyrian lion for that one, haven’t we, Robbie?”

In lieu of an answer, Beaton pointed at one of the woodblocks lying on the table.

“Right. Another worry letter for Cupid’s Letter Box?”

“I’ll write that one,” Beaton said hastily. “You’re such a cynic when it comes to love, Mac. Nobody wants to hear what you think about the plight of a young girl who…hm….is wondering about whether or not to send a posy of forget-me-nots to a gentleman of her acquaintance—”

MacNeil groaned. “And thus we all die from an overflow of sentimentalism…”

Unperturbed by the criticism, Beaton just grinned and shrugged. “Flo quite likes the overflow of sentimentalism. Says it gives the magazine a heart.”

The editor threw him a sour look. “Your wife’s taste is not always sound, Robbie. Just look at whom she has married!”

Whistling, Beaton gazed at the ceiling. “Which, if I’m not mistaken, was the making of our magazine.”

“Yes, yes. The search for the Mystery Maiden—all very romantic.” MacNeil made a dismissive gesture. “My brains must have been addled at the time.” Again, he glanced at the clock. “Barely two hours before the issue has to go to the printers. We’d better get started, gentlemen. You go over and take care of those illustrations, Pelham. And tell them downstairs to send a boy to that new chap Tambling to tell him we’ll need another piece of literary criticism this afternoon. Not about peas!”

Writing, Music, & All That

A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me a CD with a mix of music that turned out to be just perfect for listening to while writing Regency-set historicals. Over the years, I’ve listened to it so many times that now I only need to put it on to sink into Regencyland. (Thanks, Gideon! That was a truly AWESOME present!!!!)

But, alas, it’s definitely Regency. With lots of light, fluffy dance pieces. Not exactly the kind of thing you need for writing an edgy Victorian historical.

So I looked around for better writing inspiration and finally came back to the music I first used for writing: John Denver. Indeed, I wrote the whole of CASTLE OF THE WOLF listening to John Denver.

Country music for a novel set in 1827?!?!

Yes. And it totally worked. 🙂

And I’m counting on it working again!

On one of the John Denver albums I lately bought is the song “Stonehaven Sunset,” and it’s wonderfully gloomy and edgy — just perfect for a story set in the bleak winter of 1844.

PS: I wanted to insert a YouTube video in this post. Didn’t work. Grrrrrr!

A Summer for Love Blog Hop: Summer in Scotland (with Giveaway!!!)

Ahh, summertime! It’s the perfect time for strawberry ice cream, for peach bowle, for spending lazy days outside, and for going on vacation.

In the summer of 1839 this meant for a lot of people to go to Scotland because a young Scottish lord, the Earl of Eglinton, was hosting a medieval tournament on his estate in Ayrshire. He and a group of his friends donned medieval armor in order to joust like knights of old. The event drew several ten thousands of people to the Scottish countryside – and caused unspeakable traffic jams in the area around Eglinton Park. And because everybody was to come in costume, the coaches all over the country were piled high with boxes, parcels, and packages of all sizes.

In Edinburgh, a reporter for Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, ready to embark upon his journey, was utterly astonished by the amount of luggage – and he was not the only one:

Arriving at the office in Prince’s Street a little before the hour at which [the coach] should have started, we were astonished at the immense pile of luggage which we saw heaped on the street in order to be packed upon the carriage. When Mr. Croal, the coach-proprietor, came up, he was so much appalled by the sight, that, apologising for the delay which he must inevitably  occasion, he informed us that he must send back the coach to the yard, and get out a stronger one, that might be more certainly able to bear such a load without risk of breaking down.

When this more potent vehicle arrived, any impatience that might have been excited in us by the delay, was subdued by the interest which we could not help taking in the ingenuity which the coachman and his assistants displayed in packing and piling the various articles in and upon it; till I, and my companion, and two officers of our acquaintance, who had all of us placed ourselves comfortably on the hinder seats, could no longer see those in front, even when we stood up to try to do so. We felt some comfort in thinking that  the superior construction of coaches, now-a-days, admits of this being done with more safety than was formerly the case.

Besides all the ordinary kinds of trunks, portmanteaus, band-boxes, and carpet-bags, which are usually attendant upon a coach full of passengers inside and outside, there were innumerable white deal boxes of all manner of shapes and sizes. Most of them were ingeniously suspended like sausages on strings all around the carriage; and, to crown all, on the very top perched a wicker cage, containing a great, long-legged, large-bodied, awkward-looking pair of Chittagong fowls, belonging to an Indian who had a seat in the interior. The cock not only seemed to know that he was going to the Tournament as well as other people, but to think that he was to be triumphant there; for much to the amusement of all who beheld him […] he crowed away so loudly that he brought some of the sleepy citizens of Prince’s Street, in their night-caps, from their beds to their windows, to wonder at so unwonted a summon.

(from Tait’s Edinburgh Magazine, November 1839)

My latest release THE BRIDE PRIZE is set against the backdrop of the Eglinton Tournament, and my hero and heroine are among the people travelling to Scotland in August 1839. Click below to listen to an excerpt.

THE BRIDE PRIZE is available from Amazon US / UK (and all other Amazon stores) & from Kobo

But wait! You can also win a signed copy of the novella if you sign up to my newsletter during the Summer for Love Blog Hop!

And there is even more!
Leave a comment here on this blog with your name and your e-mail to be entered into the Grand Prize drawing for a chance to win one of six $50 Amazon or B&N giftcards! Just tell me about your favorite summer destination.

Comments without name and email will not be counted.
Commenting on each and every stop will increase your chances of winning.
You can find the list with all stops here.

The Grand Prizes will be awarded to randomly drawn participants / commenters.

Winners will be drawn and announced on THE ROMANCE TROUPE blog by June 10th using random.org to determine each winner.


I’m thrilled to announce that THE BRIDE PRIZE, the first in the Allan’s Miscellany series is now available on both Amazon and Kobo, with B&N soon to follow. Here’s the blurb:

It’s 1839, and Lord Eglinton’s tournament in Scotland is the most anticipated event of the year: he and some of his noble friends will don medieval armor and joust like knights of old.

Does this mean a revival of true chivalry? Miss Florence Marsh thinks it might.

Or is the tournament mere tomfoolery and the greatest folly of the century? Mr. Robert Beaton thinks it is.

But when Flo and Robbie meet at Eglinton Park, they’ll soon learn that a dash of romance can make the greatest differences look rather small and that true love might find you in the most unlikely place.

If only Robbie wasn’t working for that scandalous new magazine Allan’s Miscellany! If only Flo’s father didn’t detest the periodical press!

And if only they had remembered to bring an umbrella!

The novella is available in two different editions: a plain edition for 99 cents and an enhanced edition for $ 2.99. The latter includes detailed info about the historical background and illustrations. Here are the buy links:

Plain edition:
Kindle US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K9TEZ5S/
Kindle UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00K9TEZ5S/
and all other Amazon stores

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/the-bride-prize-1

Enhanced edition:
Kindle US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K9TLA38/
Kindle UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00K9TLA38/
and all other Amazon stores

That moment when you realise there was no direct train between London & Edinburgh in 1846….


… and it totally messes up your story.

Well, a little anyway.

Thanks to the somewhat belated realization that perhaps I should check whether there was indeed a direct train from London to Edinburgh in 1846 or whether my heroine is sitting in a horrible anachronism, I had some digging to to earlier this afternoon. And this is what I ‘ve found:

The Great Northern Railway, that is, the line between Newcastle and Edinburgh, was opened either in late 1850 or at some point in 1851 (a guidebook from 1851 mentions that new connection), so in 1846 my heroine wouldn’t have been able to take a train on that line. As to the Berwick-Edinburgh connection, I couldn’t quite figure out when exactly this was opened (it was at some point in the late 1840s). So in the end, I decided that my heroine would take the train to Newcastle and from there the stagecoach to Edinburgh. (Grrr….)

In other news, the revisions of A TANGLED WEB are all finished; I just need to type up all my edits. I’m not yet quite happy with the prologue (should I ditch Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” or not?), but I hope I’ll be able to iron this out tomorrow morning. Then I’ll just need to Americanize the whole manuscript before I can send it off to my copy editor. Wheee!