Gertrude Jekyll and Old Roses

I have taken the tremendous liberty in A DEATH BY ANY OTHER NAME, which releases on March 14, 2017,  of including among my quirky characters the redoubtable garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.


Miss Jekyll designed some of the most beautiful gardens in England,  Europe and America. She bred a number of herbaceous specimens that we grow in our gardens today, and she was also a writer, and talented water colorist. Her own garden at Munstead Wood featured in many of her water colors. Continue reading

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An Edwardian Christmas at Iyntwood

In 1901 when Clementine, Lady Montfort was a young mother with three young children in the nursery it snowed that Christmas Eve as the Talbot family and their servants walked down St. Bartholomew’s church in the village for the evening carol service. Continue reading

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British Tea and the Proper Wielding of Teapots.

I want to try to clarify some of the rules bout the ritual of tea time as it is probably one of the most misrepresented of British traditions.  

Continue reading

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Winston Churchill in Death Sits Down to Dinner

Churchil 1885 in Hussars uniform

Churchill in 1885 in his Hussar’s uniform

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston S. Churchill

Winston Spencer Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and Lady Randolph Churchill  (née Jennie Jerome) daughter of an American millionaire. As a third grandson of a duke, Winston would inherit no title and very little money. Continue reading

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Lady Montfort, Mrs. Jackson and the Agatha nomination

We, that is Clementine, Jackson and I have been nominated for an Agatha award for Best First novel: DEATH OF A DISHONORABLE GENTLEMAN. Sometimes it takes a day or two for good news to sink in and then its like drinking champagne all night without the headache the next morning. A sort of exhausted, nervous euphoria.Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

If you write I have no need to describe the rocky road we stumbled along to publication of our first book. And although Jackson still likes to look back over the last five years and tell me where I went wrong, obviously we did in the end prevail. It is only necessary to say that if I thought raising three strong minded daughters was a lesson in humility then I still had a lot to learn that rainy October in 2008 when I was cocky enough to think I might write a book. By the end of the winter I had a first draft of 145,000 words and it was then that I thought it a good idea to learn a little bit about plot structure. Continue reading

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Sir Thomas Beecham and the Importance of Starting, and Finishing, Together


April 29, 1879 – March 8, 1961

There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between. Sir Thomas Beecham


Sir Thomas Beecham by Emu in 1919

Beecham’s grandfather, also Thomas Beecham, was the rich industrialist who owned Beecham’s Powders, a laxative and cure-all for headache and stiffness of the joints.


In 1899, Hans Richter, due to conduct the Hallé Orchestra in a concert in St Helen’s, fell ill; Thomas’s father, Joseph Beecham, who was the mayor of St Helen’s, declared that his prodigiously talented 20-year-old son should step in. From there, the young conductor – entirely self-taught – moved on in leaps and bounds.


Thomas Beecham in 1910

Sir Thomas, who was extraordinarily handsome and possessed of a stupendous ego, bankrolled his Beecham Symphony Orchestra in 1909 and the Beecham Opera Company in 1915. He was also the impresario of His Majesty’s Theatre and the director of the Royal Opera House.


Thomas Beecham with Maud, Lady Cunard, the fundraising Britannia of Covent Garden and his mistress

Musically gifted though he was, he was perhaps more famous for his rapier wit. Once he described the sound of the harpsichord as “two skeletons copulating on a tin roof”; on another occasion he declared that “the British may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes”. His pointed goatee beard, his proud and portly stature and, most of all, that dry, acerbic wit have passed into musical mythology.

Thomas Beecham

Sir Thomas Beecham in middle age –giving it his all.

But Sir Thomas demanded the very highest standards from his players. He once noticed that his leading cellist was not striving for the perfection required of her. He brought the music to a halt and said to her, in front of the entire orchestra, “Now, madam, you have between your legs an instrument capable of bringing pleasure to thousands and all you can do is scratch it!”

Brass bands are all very well in their place – outdoors and several miles away.

Sir Thomas, Lady Cunard’s lover for many years, was often unfaithful to her as he was so irresistible to women. When his wife died after many years into their marriage Lady Cunard confidently expected Sir Thomas to marry her, but he abandoned her in favor of a much younger woman.

Death Sits Down to Dinner

Although “Sir Thom” as he is referred to by Lord and Montfort in DEATH SITS DOWN TO DINNER only has a walk on part –with no lines — they enjoy telling stories about some of his more eccentric adventures with Lady Cunard.

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Mrs. Jackson and the Lancashire Witches

Lancashire Jack o lantern

On All Hallows’ Eve downstairs in the servants’ hall at Iyntwood the maids light their turnip jack o’ lanterns and settle down with their cider and toasted nuts casting hopeful looks at the housekeeper to see if she is in the mood to tell them a story.  And Mrs. Jackson –who comes from Lancashire –does not disappoint, because natives of that county know a thing or two about witches and have learned the hard way that it is best to be polite if they come across one of them.

Lancashire witches moonlight

“Are you sitting quite comfortably?” she asks the youngest housemaids in her soft Lancs accent, meaning they must not fidget . “Then I will begin. Long, long ago there were three covens of wild witches scattered throughout the moors and woodlands of Lancashire: the Pendleton, Demdike and Hedgerow witches they were called. Four times a year, these three witch families got together to celebrate the festivals of Samhain, Beltane, Imboc and Lammas on Malkin Hill in an ancient stone tower on the edge of the Lancashire moors.

They had a fine old time of it, they swapped recipes for their best spells, drank a lot of good strong cider, Scrumpy is another name for it, and once they even managed to conjure up a strange looking beast that bore a passing resemblance to a goat with long black shaggy hair that walked on two legs.

Lancashire witches hell scene

The villagers in the area feared and respected these witches, who should not be confused with wise-women and herbalists –what we sometimes call White Witches –any more than you would confuse a tabby cat with a tiger if you ever came across one. Their magic was fearfully strong and if someone from a nearby farm or village were was stupid enough to cross a witch, and I mean literally to make the sign of a cross if they saw one, then woe betide them. For everything they possessed from their sheep dog to their prize heifer would perish. But witches like to keep to themselves so all was peaceable enough for the most part.

Lancashire Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

Then came the dark days of Oliver Cromwell, Old Ironsides as he was affectionately referred to. He split the country in two, executed the king and appointed himself Lord Protector of England. His rule was a strict one; he took a dim view of singing, dancing, theater and witches both tame and wild, and he was determined to rid England of magic once and for all. As is usual in the ways of mankind it turned out to be a thoroughly botched job. Many decent women, herb-wives or lonely half-mad old widows, were condemned to die as witches in those terrible times. And inevitably the day came when the whole witch-hunting business took a nasty turn for the worse.

Lancashire witches

Billy Norris was herding his sheep to market when he came across a common or garden Hedgerow witch. She was down in a ditch gathering Deadly Nightshade berries to make flying ointment for the winter. Each coven had its own recipe for flying ointment and every autumn they made masses of the stuff to last them through the winter.

Lancashire witch cursing

Billy Norris stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the witch standing knee deep in stinging nettles. He tried to sidle past her, but he was so nervous he scared one of the sheep across the lane and without his dog, who was cowering behind a tree, to nip it back into the herd it trampled the basket of berries at the old girl’s feet. She swore at Billy using quite appalling language and what was left of his nerve deserted him completely. He lost his head and made the sign of the cross. The witch, her name was Batty Heller, lifted an extraordinarily long middle finger and pointed straight and true and then melted into the hawthorn hedge and disappeared.

Lancashire witches graves

The next day every one of Billy’s sheep died. Two days after that his dog had a fit and died and as Billywas standing at the pump filling a pail of water he fell to the ground paralyzed, his hair stark white. Two days later a villager stumbled on Batty Heller in a graveyard cutting down branches of hemlock, and the day after she was seen digging up Monkshood roots in someone’s garden. The villagers decided that they had had enough.

Lancashire Mathew Hopkins Withc finder General

Mathew Hopkins Witch Finder General interrogating witches and their familiars.

They went to the local constable who got on his horse and rode into Lancaster to report that there was a dangerous witch at large down Demdike way. Without hesitating the chief constable sent for  Mathew Hopkins, the Witch Finder General and this is when things got out of hand. The Witch Finder arrived within the week with a large force of men carefully trained to search out witches.

They herded up nearly forty women, most of them innocent old crones, but among them was a particular ugly old boot whose name was Alizon Caxxon. There were plenty of villagers ready to swear that they had seen Alizon flying over the moors, upside down, on a great brown toad. And poor old Alizon was put to the question.

The things they did to Alizon Caxxon are too terrible to relate. And with you young girls already so scared I will just leave you to imagine the worst and when you have, double it and still you won’t come up with the sort of cruel things they did to the poor wretch.

Lancashire witch trils

She confessed to witchcraft of the worst kind, to curses and conjuring, and finally broken she admitted to disturbing Christian graves. With a bit more ‘questioning’, she coughed up the names of Gertie Gallavantz, Batty Heller, the beautiful Esmeralda and Square Betty, and finally she gave them Old Demdike.

Lancashire Malkin Tower

The Witchfinder General sent his men to lie in wait at Malkin tower at the next full-moon and the following morning they brought all five women in and stowed them away in the dungeons at Lancaster Prison. When they found Old Demdike her familiar Marmaduke, a large and particularly angry black cat, scratched and bit three men before he ran yowling into the night as they wrestled the old dame to the ground. Thanks to Marmaduke’s long yellow teeth their bites turned septic giving further proof that the old lady was a witch.

Word went out that for once six real witches were to be burnt at the stake on the next market day in Lancaster. The people poured in from every village around. They bit into toffee apples, scoffed down hot apple fritters and drank cider, for it was October and the day before All Hallows’ Eve. Then a great mob of them waited for the witches to be trundled out in chains from the prison, dragged up onto the towering bonfires and tied to stakes.

Lancashire watches

The fires were lit and the flames leapt into the night sky making it as bright as day in the town square. The witches began to shriek and the simple country folk jeered and threw whatever they could lay their hands on at them. Then Old Demdike lifted up her voice over the roar of the flames and cried out a long and complicated backwards blessing –what witches sometimes call a curse.

Lancashire witches lightning

It was a blood chilling sound and in that moment the square went completely dark and the night became bitterly cold. Seconds passed, the night grew blacker still, and the crowd crouched low to the ground, whimpering in fear. Still blacker and no one could see a hand in front of their face, but they could certainly hear Old Demdike as she screamed out her curse over the crackle of flames the people could no longer see: Ouy peek dna ouy ssleb drol eht yam, ouy nopu enish ot ecaf sih ekam dna (which you might understand if you hold this up to a mirror)

When her voice and those of her sisters became silent the darkness faded and the flames rekindled and leapt up higher and brighter than before as cloud after cloud of bats lifted up out of the fires and flapped up into the night sky.

lancashire swarm of bats


For the next three days and nights the skies poured rain thick with soot, a plague of toads climbed out of village pumps and wells until the ground was covered with them, cattle stopped eating and died, and no one dare leave their cottage after dark because of the terrifying apparitions that raced across the night skies. And when all was over and the bravest of witch finders climbed Malkin Hill they found that the tower had been split in two by a great bolt of lightning.



And the rest of the Lancashire witches lucky to avoid capture? They disappeared, driven deeper into the moors and the forests and were only glimpsed on All Hallows’ Eve as they flew through the night sky to Malkin Tower. And if you are foolish enough to be out after sunset on this night and look up and see a witch flying upside down on a toad whatever you do, look down!”

Note: Lancashire had more witch trials than any other county in England during the Witch Finder General’ time. I stole the witches’ name from Lancashire folk lore. But Mrs. Jackson swears that every word of this story is true!

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Maud, Lady Cunard and the Wounding Repartee

Maud Cunard photo

American socialite Maud Alice Burke, later Lady Cunard, known as Emerald


‘Let me introduce you to the man who killed Rasputin,’ Maud Cunard said to guests attending her large dinner party for the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich. Pavlovich and his friend Prince Felix Yasupov were indeed the men who had taken hours to kill the Mad Monk, Rasputin, the favorite of the Tsarina who resisting poison, bludgeoning on the head, and stabbing was finally chased from the house to be killed by a bullet in the head and then thrown into the river. Mortified at Maud Cunard’s outrageous introduction the Grand Duke Pavlovich turned on his heel and left her house, never to return.



Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia was one of the few Romanovs to escape murder by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution.


She was the American wife of Bache Cunard, the fabulously rich grandson of shipping magnate Samuel Cunard, who founded the Cunard Line. It was a marriage that she found so unforgivably boring that she abandoned Bache and went to live in London where she assumed the more interesting first name of Emerald. The couple was to legally separate, but Bache Cunard financially supported his independent wife for the rest of his life.


Bache Cunard

Sir Bache Cunard, born in New York in 1851, was the eldest son of Sir Edward Cunard – shipping magnate


Lady Cunard was probably the most lavish hostess of her day and entertained fashionable London society at countless scintillating dinners, innumerable extravagant balls, and invitations to ultrasophisticated country-house parties at her husband’s country seat at Neville-Holt Hall.. Her celebrated London salon was a center for musicians, painters, sculptors, poets, and writers, as well as politicians (anyone was invited as long as he or she was famous or interesting), but nerves of iron were necessary to withstand Maud’s quicksilver repartee and wounding tongue.


Neville Holt Hall

Nevill Holt Hall in Leicestershire. The Cunard shipping family owned the estate from 1876 to 1912


Herbert Asquith, the prime minister, considered her a dangerous woman, because although she was not greatly interested in politics, she beguiled senior politicians into revealing state information at her dinner table. Maud was renowned for serving up her guests’ frailties at dinner after the fish course. However, there was one occasion when Maud Cunard met her equal in the hands of F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead,  a skilled orator, and close friend of Winston Churchill, who was noted for his staunch opposition to Irish Nationalism,  pugnacious views, and hard living.


F.E. Smith 1st Lord Birkenhead

F. E. Smith M.P. depicted in Vanity Fair, January 1907


Do you mind if I smoke?” Lord Birkenhead asked Lady Cunard long before dinner was over.

“Do you mind if we eat?” Lady Cunard responded sweetly.

“Not if you do it quietly,” retorted his lordship.

by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928

Maud Cunard by Anthony Wysard, pencil and watercolour, published 1928


At a time when discreet infidelity was an acceptable pursuit among the aristocracy, Maud was the longtime mistress of Sir Thomas Beecham. The anecdote related by Lady Shackleton in Death Sits Down to Dinner about the window-cleaner spotting Lady Cunard in bed with Sir Thomas is actually true, and nearly cost Lady Cunard her powerful place in society.

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Mrs. Jackson and the Golden Rules

It was between the wars that the whodunit murder mystery reached its greatest popularity. We call them cozies today, because they contain a minimum of violence –although the murder can be gruesome –and there is no sex whatsoever; even romance is kept firmly under control. The most well known writers of this time were Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh all known as the Queens of Crime, John Knox and  G.K. Chesterton, .

golden Age Blog 9


Most Golden Age mysteries were set in a contained environment such as an English country house or a London Gentleman’s Club, on board a luxury ocean liner or the exotic Orient Express, or temporarily marooned on a lonely island. They had one thing in common: more often than  not, suspects were isolated until the denouement. Anywhere that the rich and the privileged gathered to be exclusive was a perfect setting for murder.

Golden Age blog1

Sleuths were usually amateur and ranged from the eccentric: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, a fastidious Belgian with tiny feet, waxed moustaches and a sweet tooth, to the staid, dowdy and inoffensive spinster, such as Miss Marple, living quietly in her picture-book English village.

Golden AGe blog 3

Quite often the amateur sleuth was an aristocrat who used the assistance of either a sympathetic member of Scotland Yard, or the unswerving loyalty of his manservant. One always suspected that Dorothy L. Sayers might have been a little in love with her urbane and sophisticated protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey.

Golden AGe Blog 4

Sometimes there is an aura of mystery about the sleuth himself. It might be suggested that he comes from an aristocratic family, is educated and well-connected, but he is a mild mannered, inoffensive character who displays none of the arrogant self-assurance of the aristocracy and is so affable and bland that he is welcome everywhere and privy to all secrets, as in Marjory Allingham’s Albert Campion.

Most of the suspects are rich, famous or from the aristocracy or the upper classes, even if the characters are not British – they follow the societal manners and behavior of British society – Ngaio Marsh and Inspector Alleyn’s suspects are usually from the ‘toff’ class even though the writer was from New Zealand. Suspects like the world they lived in were usually people who enjoyed lives that most of us dream of!

Golden AGe Blog 2

Writing a murder mystery was considered to be a game for both author and reader. The elements of the mystery must be clearly presented but in such a way as to arouse curiosity, to entice the reader to try and guess the outcome and if they were as clever as the author, to guess it before the denouement. To achieve this fair play was essential.

Golden Age Blog 6

Today cozy mysteries cross genres to include historical settings, women sleuths and sometimes more than just a dash of romance. Nevertheless most of them, if they are any good, observe the rules.

death of a dishonora#B139E3 (3)

Here are John Knox’s Ten Commandments or rules for achieving a murder mystery that contained all the elements of fair play a la the Golden Age.



The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.


All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.


Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.


No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.


No Chinaman must figure in the story*.


No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.


The detective himself must not commit the crime.


The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.


The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.


Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

*For those of us with 21st century sensibilities the ‘Chinamen’ was excluded from the Ten Commandments because at the time there were scores of novels, written hastily and badly that usually contained a Chinamen or an opium den – this was determined by the Queens of Crime to be a serious cop-out and therefore a no-no.

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Why does the Britain of the early 1900s intrigue and delight so many of us?

ChatsworthToday the great houses of Britain’s landed aristocracy with their vast, exquisite interiors and views of sweeping parkland attest to the power of rank and wealth of a bygone age. They also provide a stunning backdrop for elegantly clothed men and women with gracious manners who star in numerous costume dramas acquired for Masterpiece Theatre from the mother-lode of British television. We are presently enraptured by the first two decades of the 1900s.


Imagine you have been invited for a Saturday-to-Monday, as the Edwardians called a weekend, to one of their glorious country houses. Here is a little advice to bear in mind for your short stay, after all you might want to be invited back!


JeevesWhatever you do don’t alienate the servants: It is important not to underestimate how the Edwardians related to those who ensured their comfort and provided them with flawless and devoted service. Servants employed in the great houses were part of the family, but not of it; a sizeable distinction because it relies on generations of subtle understanding of the polite, but offhand tact, used by the uppers when they addressed the lower orders. Butlers, footmen and personal maids will be extraordinarily unforgiving if you wear incorrect attire for the country, and cruelly punishing if you are either patronizingly familiar or arrogantly dismissive. So beware! The butler and the housekeeper will be far more intimidating than the charmingly eccentric dowager duchess or that affable old colonel you will be seated next to when you arrive in time for tea.


sargent17Your Edwardian great-grandmother would have been able to give you some good advice. Huge pointers for your comportment this weekend would be restraint, restraint, and more restraint in a way we can’t begin to imagine today. Your great-grandmother would be the first to remind you to lower your voice to a well-modulated murmur, that it is rude to interrupt, or even be too enthusiastic. Do not comment on your surroundings, the magnificence of the house, or marvel at the deliciousness of your dinner. You are not on a ‘girls’ night out’, no matter how confiding and wickedly risqué your new Edwardian girlfriends appear to be, or how many glasses of wine the footman pours for you at dinner. So sorry I meant to say self-restraint – just place your hand palm down over your wine glass to indicate no thank you, when you feel a delighted shriek start to emerge.


This was a time when women were treated like goddesses . . . then they married and were kept at home to incubate an heir and a spare. While the men at your country house weekend enjoy shooting and mathew and whatseerfacefishing, you encouraged to watch and applaud, but not join to in. When they sit back to their port and a cigar after dinner your hostess will beckon you away with the other women – important that you go with them. Despite the luxurious existence of the early 1900s, most women today would find it impossible to live the hidebound, restricted life of early 20th century women. So after you have lugged in the groceries after a hard day at the office, made dinner and then helped the kids with their homework before putting them to bed, just in time to collapse on the sofa to catch an episode of Downton, try not to sigh too deeply when Mathew Crawley goes down on one knee in the swirling snow to propose to Lady Mary. Most of us would have been Ivy slogging away in the scullery and not Lady Grantham reading a novel in the drawing room!


aaaaDid the Edwardian Shangri-La portrayed in Downton Abbey really exist at all even for the upper classes? The short answer is ‘Yes’ if you were Lord Grantham and not his valet. If you have a problem not seeking to right the inequities of life, then don’t get on that train at London’s Marylebone station for the country. Certainly there were drunken, abusive husbands, negligent and thoughtless parents, spendthrifts and philanderers in the Edwardian age . . . and wronged wives looked the other way. The trick to coping with the darker side of human nature, if you were of society, was that it must never be referred to, never confided and most definitely never publicly acknowledged. However if you are an egalitarian at heart and social ostracism doesn’t bother you too much, you might join Mrs. Pankhurst’s suffragettes and militantly proclaim your opinions. I have heard that Holloway Prison was equipped with a special wing for militant members of the WSPU


bbbbThe third housemaid will unpack your trunk for you – five changes of clothes a day for three days need an awful lot of tissue paper. Here’s a titillating scrap of fresh society gossip to share with the company – gossip was the spice of Edwardian life. Gladys, the Marchioness of Ripon, an ultra-sophisticate with a ‘past’ was a wonderful example of the Edwardian double-standard and loved to gossip with her close coterie of friends. Alone in her lover’s house one day she discovered a pile of rivetingly indiscrete love letters written to him by one of her social adversaries, Lady Londonderry. Gladys swiped the lot and generously shared the juicy bits – read aloud after dinner – with her closest friends. After the fun was over she honorably returned the letters to their author at Londonderry House ─ when she knew husband and wife were dining alone. The butler approached his Lordship and handed over the ribbon-bound bundle. After studying the contents, in silence, Lord Londonderry directed him to carry the letters to the other end of the dining table. Silence still reigned as Lady Londonderry came to terms with her awful predicament, a silence that was never broken between the two of them again. Far worse than having an affair, Lady Londonderry had ‘Let down the side.’ Adultery was a fact of life, indiscretion unforgiveable; to be the subject of common gossip shameful and the scandal of divorce out of the question. Lord Londonderry never spoke to his wife in private again, and maintained a distant, cold courtesy to her in public for the rest of their long marriage – so much more entertaining than a splashy tabloid divorce!

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