Conversation candies – sweethearts for Valentine’s Day

She reached into the package and pulled out a yellow candy shaped like a heart.
“It’s got something written on it,” she said.
“That’s the message. Some people live their lives based on what’s written on a Sweetheart candy. It’s kind of like a fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant or those creepy fortune telling machines at the carnival, only you get to eat the words. (Not2Nite)

Long before the concept of something trending online came into being, people followed fads or capricious trends that ‘everyone’ was caught up in for a short while. The word fad has an unknown origin, although it might be from the term fiddle-faddle, but its first known usage was in 1867. As a good little patriot I don’t like to think its invention had anything to do with Canadian Confederation, so I propose another reasoned it was coined: Sweetheart candies, which, in 1860s America, were all the rage.
Originally they were called motto candies or conversation candies and had sayings written on paper rolled inside them. The sayings could be quite long, as in “Married in pink, he will take a drink”. Daniel Chase, who was the brother of the New England Candy Company’s (NECCO) founder, got the bright idea of printing the saying directly onto the candy and they never looked back. The heart-shaped candies were introduced in 1902. They weren’t alone. Other shapes like postcards, baseballs, horseshoes and watches were also made, though they were eventually abandoned.
In the six weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day NECCO sells two billion candy hearts. It takes 11 months of production at 45,000 kilograms of candy a day to meet the demand. Mottos, considerably shorter now that they have to fit on a tiny candy, have come and gone (so long, FAX ME, you’re no BE MINE, which has been around since the beginning) and the general public now suggests most of the sayings.
When Guy offered Molly a candy heart she wasn’t familiar with the concept. It wasn’t until 1954 that a British candy company, Swizzels, came out with a similar product called Love Hearts. The mottoes on Swizzel candies are pretty much the same as those on NECCO candies with a few notable exceptions. In the 1970s they launched Hippy Bits that were like Love Hearts, but with Flower Power messages. They didn’t last long. In recent years Swizzels hasn’t been afraid to branch into specialty candies. In 2003 they put out a special Love Heart to celebrate Prince William’s coming-of-age that was stamped Happy 21 Wills. In 2011 they released a Love Hearts gift box to commemorate his marriage to Catherine Middleton.
It’s fun to imagine that Molly had something to do with the introduction of candy hearts to Britain after the war. Perhaps she and Guy became Love Hearts tycoons. What a great outcome for a Valentine’s Day story.

Posted in Uncategorized, World War II | 4 Comments

Christmas blog tour

Once again Bob the Elf is taking part in the Highway Café Christmas Blog tour. This year he’s eager to show off his wreath building talents:
You can build a wreath from scratch, but I find it easier to start with a willow circle that I use as the base for everything else. I go for a walk outside with a basket and a pair of clippers and grab whatever takes my fancy. I start with boughs of evergreens – some balsam, some spruce, maybe some pine – and cover the willow base, using green wire to attach the boughs. Then I add whatever else I’ve found. I’ve got a big holly bush that always has beautiful berries on it and there are usually apples and dogberries and rosehips on the trees and bushes, which add lovely, festive colour to the wreath. Sometimes I’ll find different mosses I can incorporate into the mix; other times the snow’s too deep! Maybe a little bit of juniper and a touch of Euonymus, definitely a few pine cones, and the wreath is ready to hang.
The important part is to just use natural things found in your own environment.  If I ever leave the great white north maybe I’ll be making wreaths out of palm leaves and magnolias! And if I do I’ll listen to one of the greatest hits ever produced in the Great White North, Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Twelve Days of Christmas.
Here’s last year’s model with a very special member of the elf family posing coyly (She thinks she’s one of Santa’s helpers. She isn’t!):

This year my story The Key To His Heart: A Steampunk Christmas Fairy Tale has been released as a stand alone. You can buy it here:

or leave a comment to be entered in a draw to win a copy.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to visit all the other elves taking part in this year’s tour:

December 4
Holland Rae –
Susanne Matthews –
Sorchia DuBois –
Mariah Lynne –

December 5
Tena Stetler –
Maureen Bonatch –
Peggy Jaeger –
Barbara Burke (ha, that’s me; you’re already visiting here) – 

December 6
Kelly Kalmanson –
M.S. Spencer –
Hywela Lyn –
Reggi Allder –

December 7
Denyse Bridger –
Clair de Lune –
Karen Blake-Hall –
Casi McLean –

December 8
Darlene Fredette –
Daryl Devore –
Gini Rifkin –
Linda Carroll-Bradd –


Posted in Blog tours, Uncategorized | 21 Comments

British Pub Monikers

Many pubs are named after people. They could be local figures, heroes, royalty or, as in this case, religious leaders. (Image owned by Trish Steel, licenced under Creative Commons)

It was eerily quiet on the street after the friendly clamor of The Horse Under Saddle, despite the fact that it was only eight in the evening. He heard the occasional voice in the distance or the rumble of a vehicle creeping along in the dark. The most persistent sound was that of glass crunching under his feet, a disconcerting reminder of where he was and the damage that had been done in the months and months of relentless bombing that was simply called the Blitz. (Not2Nite)

What’s in a name? With apologies to William Shakespeare, would a Rose and Crown by any other name smell as sweet? Perhaps. But it might not be as much fun to visit.

The first official pubs in Britain date back to Roman times. They were called tabenae (the root of our modern word tavern) and sprang up in the first century CE along those lovely roads the Romans were so fond of building. The owner would hang a holly branch outside the tabenae in imitation of the vine leaves used in Rome to indicate a place where one could wet one’s whistle with a cup of wine.  For centuries after the Romans had scarpered back to Italy alewives, the women who traditional ran these small establishments until the men saw how profitable they were and took over, continued the tradition of putting an evergreen outside their door when the ale was ready to drink.

In 1393 Richard II enacted legislation to force brewers to post a sign outside their door so inspectors could find them. (A couple of centuries later, John Shakespeare, whose rather more famous son we’ve referred to in the first paragraph, was one such inspector.) Most people at this time were illiterate, so the sign usually took the form of a picture. Often the actual name of the pub came about long after the picture had been erected and even though nowadays pretty much everyone can read the tradition continues. British pubs wouldn’t be the same without their iconic signs.

Currently the most popular pub name in England is the Red Lion. This is what is referred to as a heraldic name, or one that’s based on heraldry. The Boar and Ragged Staff would be another example of this kind of name. Other pubs, such as the Royal Oak (number three in popularity) are based on historical events. This name commemorated the time Charles II hid in an oak tree to escape the Roundheads. Names can be based on myths and legends (The George and the Dragon), personal names (The Duke of Wellington), plants (The Ivy) and a whole host of other categories. The Horse Under Saddle, the pub Guy came out of in Not2Nite was wholly made up, but would probably fall under the category of a pub named after a sport, in this case hunting.

Over the years funny stories have sprung up over the origins of some of the more unusual British pub names. The Drunken Duck in Ambleside apparently came about when the mistress of the establishment woke up one morning to discover all her ducks dead. Not wanting to waste anything she plucked them for the pot and had just finished the job when they started waking up. It was then she discovered one of the beer barrels kept in the yard had sprung a leak. There were webbed footprints all around it. The birds were simply sleeping it off. In remorse she is said to have knitted them all little sweaters until their feathers grew back in again.

As if it weren’t enough to be granted the opportunity to sample a pint of best bitter, British pubs can also teach you a lot about history – and do so before you even step over the threshold.

Posted in World War II | 2 Comments

Happy 100th Birthday Vera Lynn!

There’s a war on. And as a result whirlwind romances are the order of the day. All of England is full of men and woman falling in love at first sight while listening to Vera Lynn singing about the white cliffs of Dover.” (Not2Nite)

In World War One the British government severely restricted entertainment. Theatres were closed and people were expected to give their all to the war effort. During World War Two they took a completely opposite tack and encouraged the population to keep their spirits up with a constant diet of cinema going, nightclub dancing and listening to the radio. It worked brilliantly and many people of the time attribute their ability to get through the constant bombing and rationing and general misery to the relief the various forms of entertainment afforded them.
If there’s one name that comes to mind when thinking about the British war effort that was neither political nor military it’s Vera Lynn. A popular singer who started her career while still a child she became known as the Forces’ Sweetheart and she travelled around the world entertaining the troops as well as hosting her own radio show. Vera Lynn seemed to resonate with the zeitgeist of the time, soaring to popularity with her hopeful ballads. She wasn’t some toffee-nosed serious musician the likes of whom were heard all too often on the BBC. She was the girl next door who never lost her cockney accent. Her songs were simple and sentimental and designed to remind people over and over again what the war was being fought for and, perhaps more importantly, that it would one day be over.
“We’ll Meet Again” was written in 1939 by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles (who also collaborated on “There’ll Always Be An England”) and promised “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.” For many people it was a lie, but it was a lie they all desperately wanted to believe.
The White Cliffs of Dover” the 1941 song written by Americans Walter Kent, who also penned “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, and Nat Burton was less specific, talking about a way of life and a future wherein “The shepherd will tend his sheep, The valley will bloom again, And Jimmy will go to sleep In his own room again.” The blue birds referred to in the song, who would fly over the White Cliffs of Dover, were the RAF pilots and crew keeping Britain safe from aerial and naval attack.

On March 20, 2017 Dame Vera Lynn celebrated her centenary. While an RAF fly by of ‘blue birds’ had to be cancelled due to weather, her image was projected onto the White Cliffs of Dover as music played and the voice of Vera Lynn brought hope to people once again.

Posted in Uncategorized, World War II | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?



This may be more like what Arabella imagined when she pictured what was hidden under Andre Barbot’s dark cowl.

Andre Barbot, sitting behind the broad mahogany desk that had once belonged to his father, was hard to distinguish in the low light shed by the gas lamp on the corner of the table. (The Key to His Heart: A Steampunk Christmas Fairy Tale)


As Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. While that’s certainly true it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work at getting the right name. There may be parents who choose their child’s moniker by throwing a dart at The Great Big Book of Baby Names but they can’t be in the majority. Words are special and names are special words, making them doubly important. That’s a lot of pressure on a poor scribe just trying to tell a story in the best way possible. But sometimes characters are kind enough to help the author figure out what their name is and that’s what happened with Andre Barbot.

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (1685-1755) was the author of the original French fairy tale La Belle et Le Bête or Beauty and the Beast, which was published in 1740. It was a full length story and her most well-known work. In 1756, however, a year after Barbot’s death, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont published an abridged version, which is the one we’re more familiar with today. Leprince de Beaumont conveniently neglected to mention Barbot and it is her version that we generally think of as the original. Naming my beast after Barbot was my own small gesture towards correcting that omission.

As far as his first name is concerned, this is a steampunk fairy tale so what better name for a human/machine hybrid than something referencing  the word android, which is a Greek construction meaning having the likeness of a man. My hero is more of a cyborg than an android, if I have to get technical, but Cy just didn’t cut it for me as a first name and I couldn’t think of another variant, so I cheated a little and went with the riff on android. I decided to keep to the French theme just because the original story is French and I like the continuity. Besides, no offence, but it’s hard to imagine a proper hero called Andy. Hence the variant Andre.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Highway Café Christmas Blog Tour


My elf name is Bob. You can take that anyway you like because it’s a palindrome. I like keeping it simple because…
…my job at Santa’s Village at the North Pole is name checker.  Of course Santa knows whether it’s spelled Caileigh, Kaleigh, Kaylee, Kayley, Kaylie, Kaeli, Keighley, Keighlee, Caylee, Caelie or Kaeley but the poor elf writing the gift tag doesn’t. Imagine if the wrong name were put on a gift! It’s a very, very important job.
I’m afraid I don’t like to listen to music when I’m working.  I have to concentrate very hard and once I had the radio on and got distracted by the song The Name Game. I ended up missing a tag on a present that read Jackson instead of Jaxon. I mustn’t allow that to happen again.
I don’t like to have anything to eat or drink while I’m working because I don’t want to spill anything on the tags, but on my break I do enjoy some shortbread and eggnog (without the rum until the end of the work day, of course).

This year I get to be secret Santa for Puddle. Puddle’s job is to melt the ice on the front step of the toy workshop. That’s a really important job, too, and it can be dangerous. That’s why I’m giving Puddle a pair of safety elf boots so she doesn’t slip and fall on the ice. They look like this:



Here’s the recipe for my Christmas eggnog:

1 egg
1/4 cup of sugar
1 1/2 cups of milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
freshly grated nutmeg

Beat the egg until smooth and thick and then beat the sugar into the egg until the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the milk and vanilla extract. Pour into a festive glass and top with nutmeg. Serve immediately.
If you’ve finished work for the day and plan to just sit in front of the fire and read Christmas stories I suggest adding a big tot of rum or whisky to your eggnog.

Here’s something to read while you’re drinking your eggnog, if you wish:


10 holiday stories from sweet to scorching! You’ll find brand new tales of love and desire by members of Romancing the Rock. Discover bestselling and award winning authors, plus hot new voices from Newfoundland’s emerging romance writing scene.


When Arabella’s father stole The Rose, the best ship in the skies, from Andre Barbot she had no choice but to accompany Barbot on his next voyage. It was either that or see her father in jail. Along the way she discovers that the so-called monster’s mechanical heart is just as human as hers, but is it capable of love?

Available at and

Please don’t forget to visit the rest of the elves on the Highway Café Christmas Blog Tour:

Darlene Fredette –
Tena Stetler –
Stacy Holmes –
M.S. Spencer –
Maureen Bonatch –
Nancy Fraser – wordpress/holiday-blog-hop/
Sorchia Dubois –
Carol Henry –
Hywela Lyn –
Casi McLean –…cal-mystery-tour/
Kayden Claremont. –
Mariah Lynne –
K. K. Weil –
Clair de Lune –
Linda Carroll-Bradd – (participating on Dec 6 only)

Merry Christmas! I can’t wait to see what my Secret Santa has got for me.



Posted in Blog tours, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Corsairs and dangerous men

Lord Byron, the author of The Corsair, was himself something of a Byronic hero.

Lord Byron, the author of The Corsair, was himself something of a Byronic hero.

The stubble on his chin was rough against her face, and she realised she’d never seen him unshaven before. Ludicrous as it seemed after the night they’d spent together, she felt an even higher level of intimacy, as unexpected as it was thrilling.“You look like a corsair,” she said, running her hand along his cheek.  (Recompromising Amanda)

A corsair was a pirate – often an ex-privateer – also known as a Barbary Pirate. Corsairs operated out of North African ports such as Algiers and Rabat, which were on the Barbary Coast, hence their name. Although they ranged as far as Iceland they concentrated most of their efforts in the western Mediterranean, raiding coastal towns in Italy, France and Spain. As well as general looting and pillaging they captured slaves for the Ottoman empire and were thought to have taken over a million people from the sixteen to the nineteenth century. It wasn’t until the build up of European navies and the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars that the Barbary Pirate threat diminished, spurred by Britain’s anti-slavery mandate.

Amanda, however, probably had a much more romanticized image of a corsair than the more realistic one of a slave-taking, looting rapist. A number of corsairs were European renegades, privateers who couldn’t settle down in peacetime. In 1814 Lord Byron published The Corsair, a long poem in heroic couplets so popular it sold out its initial run of 10,000 copies on the first day. It tells the tale of Conrad, a renegade English corsair who, according to Byron was: ‘linked with one virtue and a thousand crimes’. Women of the day swooned over the image of Conrad (as well as over Lord Byron). The Corsair was a typical Byronic hero which Lord Macaulay described as “a man proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection.”

No doubt it was this image of someone dangerous but irresistible that Jason’s tousled appearance brought to Amanda’s mind. It’s a prototype that still lives in modern romantic fiction in the form of billionaires, cowboys and other wild types who, according to the conventions of the genre, just need a woman to tame them.

Posted in Regency | Leave a comment