Dratted Downton Abbey

This is dire.

I needed another costume drama addiction like I needed a Tim Tebow bobblehead…which is to say, I didn’t.

In case you did, Merry Christmas

I certainly didn’t want an addiction to a show currently airing. I have the peculiar habit of refusing to watch a show while it airs. I purchase it on DVD and then I can glut myself all at once without having to wait that pesky week in-between, gnashing my teeth. This works well except when it doesn’t and someone spoils a plotline at the water cooler.

And then came this Christmas…

My mother, the source of all delightful period temptations, gifted me with Season 1 of Downton Abbey. This is the one show I have been avoiding precisely because I knew it would be like catnip for costume lovers.

I did not open it for several weeks. And then Season 2, episode 1 was due to air. I told my mother I wasn’t going to watch it, that I needed to watch Season 1 first and then I could buy Season 2, as per my usual plan. She parried this lame and useless objection and sternly told me to sit down and watch Season 2, episode 1.

“But…but, it’s all backwards and besides then I’ll know what happens and it will spoil season 1,” said I, feebly.

With inexorable Mother Logic, she brushed that protest aside and told me to watch it. So I did. And now I’m hooked. I watched Season 2, Episode 1 (all TWO HOURS) twice. And then I watched it again when it re-aired before Episode 2. For those counting, that is SIX HOURS of Episode 1. Dratted Mother. Dratted Downton Abbey.

First, I’ve always been a huge Edwardian era fan. One of my very favorite movies of all time is “A Room With a View.”

When I was younger, I wanted to grow up to be like Lucy Honeychurch. That daydream likely consisted of wandering around Italian meadows in white muslin gowns, reading letters and pining. After watching Downton Abbey, I took the official personality quiz to find out which character I was like. Apparently, I am now like Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), the witty and nefarious heartbreaking one. It seems to be a short leap from Lucy to Mary, or eleven years.

At least she has exquisite taste

There have been other blog posts which have much more eloquently and succinctly dealt with the virtues of Downton. Ah, the acting! the costumes! the setting! the storylines! the dialogue!

Lady Mary actually had me at this droll exchange from Season 2, Episode 1:

Matthew: Edith seems jolly tonight.
Mary: She’s found her metier: farm labouring.

Metier? Who uses that word? Other than me, that is. I can hear the distant bells of addiction tolling – DOOOOM!

My favorite relationship in the show is actually not Lady Mary and Matthew, nor is it the popular charm of Anna and Mr. Bates. No, my favorite relationship in the series is Lord and Lady Grantham.

The hats!

Backstory explains that Lord Grantham married Cora, an American, for her money, but their relationship has grown into one of such nuanced tenderness and relative equability for the time…how could you not love them? The chemistry between Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern reminds me of my own parents…too bad we didn’t grow up in Highclere Castle. Sigh.

So, to sum up, all my substantial to do list has been shelved and you will find me curled up in my blanket, probably eating Cool Ranch Doritos and watching, oh yes, watching Downton Abbey.

And then I will likely pull out my copy of “A Room With a View”, which also features the indomitable Dame Maggie Smith.

The Divine Miss M

Coincidence? I THINK NOT. If anyone finds a Maggie Smith bobblehead, that is what I want next Christmas. Also, Season 2. Thanks, Mum.

Book Review:The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory possesses the happy talent of weaving historical fact with historical fiction, a true gift. Effortlessly, she takes us through the lives of notable women of history. Sometimes they are famous (Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn) and sometimes they are obscure. Either way, she treats their lives with compassion, teasing out all the tiny details that make them spring into vivid three-dimensions.

Gregory establishes the benchmark for any historical fiction writer. A historian herself (Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh), she uses her writing to take her readers into hitherto undiscovered territory. Much historical fiction has been written about the Tudors, but in The Lady of the Rivers, Gregory moves further back, before even the War of the Roses.



The star of The Lady of the Rivers is young Jacquetta (previously encountered in The White Queen). She has visions of the future, a hereditary gift for the women in her family. This gift puts her into the dangerous orbit of the powerful Duke of Bedford. He wishes for her to use her visions to help him discover the Philosopher’s Stone, which allows the transmutation of lead to gold. He wishes to use this gold to strengthen the English army and maintain their hold of occupied France.

Women and power, visible and invisible, is one theme that Gregory revisits in the book. The Wheel of Fortune can throw you very high and cast you very low; to illustrate this, The Lady of the Rivers opens with Jacquetta befriending Joan of Arc, who was imprisoned in her uncle’s home. Because Joan brought the English army to its knees, she must die as a result. As a writer, Gregory is constantly exploring the conflict between men and the women determined to live their own lives.

The novel follows Jacquetta through her life, notably highlighting her influential friendship with Margaret of Anjou that places her squarely in history’s path as the Lancasters and the Yorks begin to clash.

There is a love story with the Duke of Bedford’s squire, Richard Woodville, for those who enjoy their historical fiction with a bit of spice, and there are mystical moments with the gift of foretelling and the goddess of Water, Melusina. In short, all the elements that make Philippa Gregory a giant force in the world of historical fiction.

My one disappointment was that Jacquetta’s life, by necessity of historical fact, was an unending stream of battles. Her husband was constantly being sent off in support of his king. This coming and going occupies a great deal of the book. While Gregory handles this deftly, it allowed my attention to wander periodically. Nevertheless, I am avidly waiting for the next installment in The Cousin’s War series.

Visit Philippa Gregory’s website at: www.philippagregory.com.

Article first published as Book Review: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory on Blogcritics.

Ergo, NaNoWriMo

I wish that I could blame my lack of recent posts on my new obsession with my word count on NaNoWriMo’s website. However, since it starts in November and I am still 48,332 words away from my 50,000 word goal, I can hardly blame it with conviction.

I have kept up nicely on the Facebook page. If you haven’t joined up, please do check it out. There is some content that is exclusive to Facebook and I enjoy promoting the amazing creative projects of others as much as my own.

I am pleased that I am writing, even if it is not in blog form. My project for NaNoWriMo was inspired by a dream, actually. I had the dream on the 31st of October, so the timing was impeccable. I tend to have these epic, plot-driven dreams that have no seeming parallel in my real life. In fact, the dream was so fascinating that I actually half-woke up thinking that I needed to write it all down…so I wrote it down in the dream and woke up with no notes. Figures.

Agatha Christie

I have an odd, half-superstitious fear of synopsizing, so I won’t bore you as to the content of the dream. Suffice to say it involved London in WWII, a derelict theatre, apparitions, a sprawling country estate, mesmerizing patterns, a murder of a beautiful girl and an unlikely killer. Kind of a cross between Dame Agatha Christie and Busby Berkeley.

I’d love to hear some comments from the writers who read my blog. Have you done NaNoWriMo? Did it help to have a deadline? Were you pleased with the results?

So, forgive my silence, friends and picture me scribbling away on my note cards and the backs of burger wrappers. “Write, write and maybe one day you might be read”, think I.