Happy Holidays! Hope everyone is having a great last-week-of-2009!

As I mentioned last week, I thought it would be fun to make this week’s blog a list of holiday gifts Charles and Mel and the other characters might give each other if they lived today. And then I thought perhaps I’d also include gifts they’d give each other in real (Regency) time. Actually, there ended up being a lot of similarities between the lists–lots of books and jewelry. Perhaps not surprisingly, as both are gifts I love myself :-).


Mélanie to Gisèle – lace camisole and pashmina
Mel & Charles to Andrew – panini maker (great for quick meals with the kids)
Charles to Gisèle – moonstone & seed pearl earrings
Charles to Mel – bracelet of agates from the Perthshire coast near Dunmykel
Mel to Charles – first edition score to The Marriage of Figaro; autographed Renée Fleming CD (which she stood in line to get after a recital)
Isobel & Oliver to Mélanie – J. Crew sequined cardigan (midnight blue with black trim)
Charles & Mel to Isobel – J. Crew cashmere cardigan (ivory)
Andrew & Gisèle to Charles – Ardbeg whisky
David & Simon to Mel – Bollinger 1988 Champagne
Simon & David to Charles – autographed copy of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky
Gisèle & Andrew to Mel – Iona marble and sterling necklace and earrings from local artisans
Charles & Mel to Simon – autographed copy of Bill Cain’s Equivocation
Mel & Charles to Colin – Robin Hood action figures & book; Lego pirate ship
Charles & Mel to Jessica – Lego castle; Steiff lion
Raoul to Charles, Mel, Colin, & Jessica – tickets to The Hardnut
Charles to Addison – cashmere scarf; James Bond DVDs
Mel to Blanca – Burberry taffeta trench coat
Addison to Blanca – engagement ring


Charles to Mel – bracelet of agates from the Perthshire coast near Dunmykel; new Schubert songs (direct from composer)
David & Simon to Charles – Ivanhoe
Mel to Charles – first edition score to The Marriage of Figaro
Mélanie to Gisèle – Lyons scarf
Charles & Mel to Colin – Robin Hood stories
Charles & Mel to Jessica – toy theatre
David & Simon to Charles – rare edition of John Donne poems
Charles to Gisèle – moonstone & seed pearl earrings
David & Simon to Mel – collection of Sheridan plays
Isobel & Oliver to Charles – traveling chess set
Isobel & Oliver to Mel – spangled scarf
Charles & Mel to Isobel – paisley shawl
Raoul to Charles – painting Goya did of Mélanie
Charles to Addison – volume of Keats
Mel to Blanca – velvet pelisse
Addison to Blanca – betrothal ring

What gifts would you add to the list, between these characters or others? Feel free to be as vague or specific as you like. Any particular special gifts you received this holiday season or in other years?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a Christmas letter from Charles to David in 1812, when Charles and Mel have been married less than a month.

Those who read this blog regularly will have heard me burble on about the fabulous season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and in particularly about the wonderful productions of Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man and the world premiere Equivocation by Bill Cain. Because of the way the schedule worked, The Music Man and Equivocation often played on the same day. After I returned from my July trip to OSF in Ashland with my friend Penny, I decided I’d make a trip back in the fall to see both plays again (or rather for the third time, since I’d seen them first in the spring). I bought tickets, made plans to see the matinee of The Music Man and have dinner with my friend Elaine who lives in Ashland, booked the hotel. Of course by the time the trip rolled around I was busy and stressed. I knew I’d have fun, but I didn’t realize quite how beneficial the brief break would be for my writing.

I always do some of my best plot-thinking in the car. On the drive up I worked through one plot issue that had been bothering me. There was snow beside the road going over the pass into Ashland. The fall leaves were gorgeous as I drove into town, the air crisp with a hint of winter when I got out of the car. Stress melted away with the change of scene. I went to Elaine’s house for a fabulous dinner. It was great to have a leisurely evening to talk. I’ve known Elaine since I was a child (she worked with my parents for many years), but this is the first time I learned that she too loves The Scarlet Pimpernel. I showed her my SP blog posts and the online sites where you can download all the novels.

Both plays were wonderful. I think the productions had grown each richer, and I found myself noticing small details I’d missed the previous times. Elaine and I discussed the new nuances we’d noticed in The Music Man over dinner at the wonderful Chateaulin. Equivocation in particular was an inspiration for my current book, as it deals with power, monarchs, politics, and searching for the truth amid layers of intrigue. I didn’t try to write while I was on the trip, but over a latte and a fabulous portobello mushroom vegetarian eggs benedict at the Ashland Bistro Café the next day, I made notes for my book, inspired by the plays I’d just seen, particularly the tension between sovereigns and the politicians behind the throne. New ideas and connections sprang to mind.

I drove out of Ashland under a gray, drizzling sky, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I put Broadway musicals on the CD player and returned to pondering Act III of my book. Pieces I’d been struggling with fell into place with delightful ease. Not only was getting away good for me, it was creatively energizing. I returned home happy to get back to work.

Do you find getting away for a couple of days clears your thoughts for writing or other projects? Writers, where do you do your best writing thinking? What feeds your inspiration?

Be sure to check out Mélanie writing to Isobel Lydgate about the Peace Festival at the Congress of Vienna in the latest Fraser Correspondence addition.

My fellow History Hoyden Lauren Willig had a great post last week on authors are characters in fiction. It’s fascinating topic and very timely for me, as one of the plays my friend Penny and I just saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland was the world premiere production of a fabulous new play called Equivocation by Bill Cain.

Equivocation begins with James I’s minister, Robert Cecil, demanding that Shakespeare write a play about the Guy Fawkes plot, adding almost apologetically “The King wants witches.” Shakespeare, called Shagspeare or Shag, is torn, seeing the impossibility and dangers of writing the play, seeing the risks of refusing. The members of the Globe Theater company are torn as well, but in the end agree he should take the commission. Then Shag begins to investigate the Gunpowder Plot and to question is the official version of events is really the truth.

In addition to the actor who plays Shag, four actors play members of the Globe company and also play Cecil, James I, the conspirators, and other characters. The one other actor plays Shag’s daughter Judith, with whom he has a fraught relationship owing to the death of her twin brother and the fact that, in his words, “We both know I wish she was the one who had died.”

Equivocation is a brilliant play on a number of levels. It’s exciting storytelling as Shag attempts to unravel the truth behind the Gunpowder Plot. There are fascinating philosophical layers about power, forgiveness, the nature of truth, the nature of theater. Much of the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, but there are also moments that make you gasp at the tension, and the end had me in tears. One thing that struck me in terms of Lauren’s blog is that the portrait of Shakespeare really seems like the man who might have written Shakespeare’s plays. I felt the same about the Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love (with it’s brilliant script by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman). What’s more, both characters thought and talked like writers

The actor characters in Shakespeare in Love and Equivocation also ring true. There’s a wonderful scene early on in Equivocation where they’re rehearsing King Lear and complaining it doesn’t make any sense (everyone’s mad or pretending to be mad and no one’s listening to anyone else). Richard Burbage says “if we got through his comedies-don’t-have-to-be-funny period, we can get through whatever this is.” :-).

A sampling of some other favorite lines:

Robert Cecil: “What’s the word for a person who waits till the last minute? A…”
Shag: “Writer?”

Judith: “Lear’s about an old man who causes the death of his three daughters and, when it’s over, everyone feels sorry for him.”

Shag: “He [Cecil] insulted me. He said my work would last fifty years.”

Shag [to one of the young actors]: “Anyone who has the looks, energy, needs approval as much as you do and doesn’t care about anyone but himself–can be a great actor. A rare combination, but you have it.”

Do you have favorite plays or books or movies that depict writers and/or actors? What makes them work?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mélanie to Charles on his birthday in 1814.