Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The London of Sebastian St. Cyr: St. Helen's, Bishopsgate

As longtime readers of the Sebastian St. Cyr series know, Jamie Knox's tavern, the Black Devil, backs onto the churchyard of St. Helen's, Bishopsgate. 

St. Helen's still exists today, having come through both the Great Fire and the Blitz. In fact, it is the largest surviving church in the City of London. Built in the 13th century as part of a priory of Benedictine nuns, it contains twin naves once separated by a wall (the northern nave was for the nuns, with the adjoining nave for parishioners). After the Dissolution, the central wall was torn down and the other priory buildings repurposed rather than destroyed. It wasn't until 1799 that most of the other old monastic buildings disappeared.
Unfortunately, the church was badly damaged by IRA bombs in the 1990, when many of its famous interior monuments were lost and its huge medieval stained glass window shattered. It has since been repaired, but you can compare the above image of the interior with an old photograph, below.
Interestingly, St. Helen's was also the parish church of William Shakespeare when he lived in the area. Today, the old church is overshadowed by the looming modern skyscrapers around it. But a tiny part of its ancient churchyard remains.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bugsy. Again.

Bugsy's back, and all grown up now. Unfortunately, the parents of his little owner have decided they don't want him any more, so they gave him the boot.

He knew right where to come.

I've sent emails to two Louisiana no-kill rescue groups, which of course are all full. But both have promised to put him at the top of their waiting list, so I am hopeful. I'd be more hopeful if I didn't still have this little cutie (now four months old and bad, bad, BAD).

Can I just say, I really didn't need a rabbit?

Monday, September 22, 2014


The first pass page proofs--aka galleys--arrived last week. These are always exciting since it means a book is getting close to publication. In fact, the Advance Readers Copies should be available soon, and I'm thinking of running a contest to give one lucky reader a chance to win a copy.

I always read galleys very slowly because at this point, I've read the #@%$ thing so many times my brain sees what it expects to see and not what's actually on the page. I did find one terrifying error--I had written Queen Elizabeth when any fifth grader would know I meant Queen Mary. Oh, dear.

In other news, thanks to a continuing string of bad luck with anything that runs on electricity, we spent a small fortune at the Apple Store this past weekend. Not one of these shiny new toys is mine (although since I just got a new desktop when my last one died its spectacular death, I guess I really can't complain). I didn't think I wanted the new iPhone 6 until I saw Danielle's, but I now have a serious case of Phone Envy (That lovely screen! That incredible camera!). I need to drop mine.....

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


I just spent the past week immersed in two lovely books: The Morville Year and The Morville Hours, by Katherine Swift. Regular readers of this blog know that the eleventh book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, Untitled (yeah, the lack of a title starting to bug me), will see Sebastian and Hero and Simon traveling north to Shropshire (for reasons that will become more clear after you've read #10, Who Buries the Dead). One of the characters in the Shropshire book is a woman who lives in a dower house around which she has created a lovely garden. And in one of those marvelous accidents of fate, I was kicking around the Internet one day when I stumbled upon Swift, who has created a lovely garden around a National Trust dower house in Shropshire, and wrote two books about it. So of course I ordered them.

I was hoping they might prove to be useful research tools; what I didn't expect was to be swept away. These are enchanting books, full of all sorts of marvelous details about plants and birds and butterflies and bees, about the cycle of the seasons and folkways and ancient traditions, about life and history and country folk and one woman's intense love for the making of a garden.

You know a book has really touched you when you realize it has caused a shift in your thinking, a change in your outlook. My own garden has been hideously neglected this past year, with all of my weekends going to getting my mother's house ready to sell (closing this Thursday!!!!!!!!!). Neglect a garden in New Orleans and it will swallow your house. I've been feeling so oppressed and anxious about it that my attitude was destroying my joy in my garden (well, that plus New Orleans' brutal summer heat). Thanks to Swift, I've been able to let go that oppressive sense of, Oh, God, I should have cut back my roses by now! and It's almost time for the leaves to start falling again and I never finished picking up last year's! Yes, my garden's a mess. But I'm slowly bringing it back, and thanks to Swift, I find I can relax and enjoy the process of getting it there far more than I would have otherwise. Her gift to me.

Magical books.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Come September

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with September. As a child, September was irrevocably associated in my mind with back to school (I really, really hated school). I was very much a child of summer; I loved the long days of blue skies and golden light, of endless lazy hours spent reading or fishing or running through ripening hay fields with my dog.

But there were still things I loved about September. I’m a Libra, so September means my birthday (unfortunately not as welcome these days as it was at the age of ten or even twenty-one). All those years in Idaho, Oregon, and Colorado left me with a nostalgic yearning for crisp, wood smoke-scented mornings and the sight of frost-nipped trees blazing in brilliant scarlets and yellows against a fiercely blue Indian summer sky. But my favorite time of year was still summer.
When I moved to Adelaide, Australia, everything turned upside down. Suddenly, September meant spring, the beginning of a new year of growth coinciding with the beginning of my new year. In a sense, it was a perfect match. For a time.  Then I moved to New Orleans.

The summers of New Orleans aren’t the warm, balmy days of my childhood or even the hot, dry days lightened by cool breezy nights that made Adelaide so wonderful. Here, summers are a brutal thing to be endured, with an enervating heat and a level of humidity reminiscent of being smothered by a steaming wet towel. These days I spend summer dreaming of its end, the same way I once waited for the passing of the cold, dark days of a northern Idaho winter.
Except, of course, September in New Orleans is still ferociously hot. Not only that, but the most dangerous time for hurricanes is three weeks on either side of September 10th. So all through September, the first thing I do every morning is turn on my computer and look at the “Severe Weather” section of Weatherunderground.com to see if anything is brewing out there. Ask me my favorite month these days, and I think I’d say...October. Or maybe April. April sounds good.

How about you? What’s your favorite time of year? Does it change depending on where you live?