• Multi-published author, with 21 novels and
numerous magazine articles.
• Three-time finalist for the prestigious RITA
Award, the publishing world's equivalent of the
Oscars for the best romance novels of the year.
• Numerous writing awards, including
2 Daphne Du Mauier Awards for Historical
Mystery, the Golden Leaf Award and the Holt
Medallion of Excellence.
Tennis, Anyone? (The Origins of the Game)
(from The Word Wenches blog)
Wimbledon comes to a close this weekend, when the last tennis balls skid over the grass courts.
It’s one of the “Grand Slam” events, a quartet of tournaments that are the crown jewels of the
sport’s elite competitions. (Remember, I warned you all that I am the resident “jock” of the
Wenches.) As it’s one of the grand traditions of a game that often appears in literature, it got
me to thinking . . .
In historical novels, the words “Tennis, anyone?” conjure up vintage images of elegant figures
clad in pristine whites moving gracefully across a swath of verdant lawn. (I’m particularly fond
of E.M Forster’s A Room With A View and its descriptions of pastoral Edwardian garden party
elegance.) But take note—Edwardian is the key time frame here. Or late Victorian to be per-
fectly precise. Any time period earlier and an author is . . . hitting the ball into the net.
I cringe when I read Regency or Elizabethan authors having their characters play a set of tennis
outdoors on the lawns. Yes, tennis has been around for centuries—but the game we know today
as tennis was not invented until 1874, when Major Walter Clopton Wingfield filed for a patent
on a new sport he called sphairistike, which is Greek for . . . uh, well, lawn tennis. (Not that
Achilles was known for his drop shot.)
Thankfully the Patent Office refused to patent the name (can you imagine trying to say
“Sphairistike, anyone?” . . . especially after two gin and tonics.) But it did give him rights to
the design of his court—which was first shaped like an hourglass, rather than the now familiar
rectangle. Wingfield quickly published his rules as The Major’s Game of Lawn Tennis. The
game was a hit with the younger sporting set, who were looking for something more vigorous
than croquet to play at their country houses. It soon spread to the Continent and America, via
Bermuda, and tennis tournaments became a popular pastime for the leisure class.
But back to the “real” story.
The game of tennis (these days it is called real tennis, or court tennis, to distinguish it from the
modern sport of lawn tennis) originated in the Middle Ages. Legend has it that the game was
created by monks hitting a ball off the angled walls and roofs of their monastery or cloisters
with their hands. (In France the game has always been known as jeu de paume—game of the
hand.) Racquets appeared in the early 16th century and by the reign of the Tudors, tennis was
so popular in England and France that numerous indoor courts were built for the game. (In
1600, the Venetian ambassador to Paris recorded that there were 1800 courts in the city. That
sounds awfully high to me, but perhaps it was true, because it’s also recorded that high stakes
gambling on tennis was so prevalent in 1369 that Charles V had to issue an edict restricting
Interestingly enough, one of the first mentions of a female athlete in history was a tennis
player. In 1427, it’s recorded that Margot of Hanault played at a gambling house known as the
Little Temple and attracted crowds when she took on all challengers.
Court tennis is often called the sport of kings, for royal names abound in the annals of the
game. Louis X of France died from a chill he caught after playing jeu de paume.. Henry VIII,
an ardent player, was said to have been executing a slice on the tennis court at Hampton Court
as Anne Boleyn was losing her head. And on the Continent, Catherine de Medici was known to
wear her hair styled in the shape of a tennis racquet.
Tennis also figured into the lore of the French Revolution. David’s famous painting of “The
Tennis Court Oath” pictures the deputies of the Third Estate on the court at Versailles, swear-
ing to fight for a constitution for France. (For the record, the monarchy went down to defeat in
straight sets.) Napoleon and Wellington were also said to be aficionados of the game.
Classic literature abounds with references to court tennis. Perhaps the most famous is Act 1,
Scene II in Shakespeare’s Henry V, where the King reacts to the French Dauphin’s insulting
gift of tennis balls: “When we have matched our rackets to these balls/We shall in France, by
God's grace, play a set/Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.”
A court tennis court is asymmetrical (so are the racquets) and the oddities reflect the game’s
Medieval courtyard heritage. While all courts are approximately 110’ long by 38’ wide, no
two are exactly alike. Each has its own unique little architectural details to bedevil the players,
which is considered part of the charm of the game. However, the elements are the same. The
ancient cloister roof is represented by the penthouse, a sloping ledge that runs along three sides
of the court. On the fourth wall is a buttress called the tambour. There are openings in the walls
called the dedans and the grille. A net crosses the center of the court, but it high at the ends and
droops in the center because in past centuries, the monks had no way to tighten it. The floor is a
hard, cement-like surface marked with painted lines that look more like football markings than
the familiar lawn tennis layout.
As for scoring . . . oh, don’t ask. It’s incredibly complicated. Yes, the games and sets are scored
the same as in modern tennis, but winning points is far more complex. As one top-ranked court
tennis player admitted, ”If you haven’t played the game, it’s impossible to comprehend.” Suf-
fice it to say, depending on where a ball lands, there are complex rules about playing hazards
and chases, which are sort of games within games. (Cut to the chase is a term that comes from
court tennis.) Sometimes the best way to win a point is not to play the ball at all! Even experi-
enced players need a scorer to keep track of all the arcane permutations.
For modern tennis fans, this time of year marks the zenith of the game’s calendar. As I men-
tioned, the French Open—played on the glorious red clay courts at the Bois de Boulogne in
Paris—is a much anticipated rite of Spring. And at the end of June, strawberries and cream at
the grass courts of Wimbledon outside of London are a cherished English sporting tradition. So
as you watch the modern athletes pummel the ball across the net, raise a toast to both the old
and the new—and know that the roots of the game are far deeper than those emerald blades of
The Perfect Martini
(from The Word Wenches blog)
During a recent research trip to London to immerse myself in some of the more esoteric aspects
of the Regency era, I happened to hear that Dukes Hotel, a small boutique establishment
tucked in a quiet cul de sac off St. James's Street, served the best martini in the world. Now,
being a serious student of British history and traditon, I felt beholden to delve a bit deeper.
Wine is my usual libation, so I confess that I am not a connoisseur of cocktails. However, I was
very willing to get into the spirits of things . . .
For anyone who loves history, walking into the Dukes Bar is in itself an intoxicating seduction
of the senses. The two sitting rooms are intimate in scale, with plush carpeting, creamy wood
trim and muted lighting that creates the feeling that you’re steeping into the private parlor of
a friend—a very posh friend. One with oodles of taste and oodles of Old Money. Painting and
prints of historic dukes adorn the pale taupe walls, their regal visages presiding over the well-
heeled crowd. Wellington. Devonshire. York . . .
And then there’s Alessandro. The Duke of the Drinks trolley, he is resplendent in his elegant
white dinner jacket and dapper black tie. His voice is low and liquid, and somehow I feel
impossibly chic as I take a seat in one of the soft leather chairs, imagining myself swathed in
silk, satin and pearls. When he hears that I know precious little about his specialty of the house,
he smiles and offers to educate me.
But first, a bit of history on gin, which according to Alessandro is the preferred spirit for a true
martini. (He gives a long suffering sigh at the mention of vodka—though Ian Fleming was a
regular at Duke’s, Alessandro claims he enjoyed “shaking things up” and so made James Bond
a bit of a rebel with his vodka martini.)
Gin, which derives from the Dutch word genever, is a grain-based spirit infused with juniper,
and is said to have originated in Holland sometime during the early 17th century. (Though
some claim it was prevalent in Renaissance Italy.) During the Thirty Years’ War, English
soldiers picked up the habit of indulging in a little “Dutch Courage” before battle, and when
they returned home, they brought with them a taste for gin.
William of Orange, who came to the English throne in 1689 after the “Glorious Revolution,”
encouraged its consumption, as he wished to discourage the import of brandy and other spirits
from Catholic countries such as France. The drink became popular—a little too popular. By the
1730s, drunkenness among the poor was a huge problem, as depicted by Hogarth is his print
“Gin Lane.” Of the 15,000 drinking establishments in London, over half were said to be gin
shops. (Gin, which requires no aging, is a relatively cheap liquor to produce.) Some pubs had a
plaque shaped like a cat on its outside walls. Known as ‘Old Tom,’ this contraption served as a
precursor of the modern vending machine—a person would insert a penny into the cat’s mouth
and place his mouth around a tube between the paws. In return, the barkeeper would pour a
shot of gin through the tube. ‘Old Tom’ gin is a style that still exists today, and like many 19th
century gins, is sweeter than other modern blends.
The government passed a Gin Act in 1739, which failed to control the trade and ended up being
repealed in 1742. To circumvent taxes, many makers called their spirits “medicinal” draughts
and marketed them with such names as Cuckold’s Comfort and My Lady’s Eye Water. In the
1750s, the government did manage to regulate the production and distribution somewhat,
but gin remained a drink of the lower classes. However, with the advent of new distilling
techniques in the mid 1800s, gin became a lighter, more refined spirit—known as ‘London
Dry’—and became popular with the ladies in Victorian times.
As the British Empire spread around the globe, gin went with it. It became a favorite drink in
places like India, where it was mixed with quinine “tonic’ water—an anti-malarial botanical—
to mask its bitter taste. In America, gin’s low cost and ease of production made it a staple of the
Prohibition era. Along with whiskey and rye, it’s cleaned up its image considerably since then
and today, of course, it’s a basic ingredient in countless cocktails.
‘London Dry’ is the most common style of gin. There is also ‘Plymouth’ gin, which is a full-
bodied blend flavored with citrus peel, orris and angelica root, cardamom and coriander, as
well as juniper. (Only one distillery, Coates & Company, is allowed to call itself ‘Plymouth’
Now back to Alessandro. He decided to make me a ‘classic” martini, for which he chose
Plymouth gin. Rolling over his vintage wood and brass drink cart, he uncapped a bottle fresh
from the freezer—that’s part of his secret for making the perfect martini. A spritz from an
atomizer is all the vermouth he adds to the glass—which is also frozen. (Churchill, who took
his drinks seriously, is said to have remarked that merely waving a vermouth cork over the gin
He proceeded to cut a long strip of lemon peel—a bit over two inches—which he carefully
pinched, skin side to skin side, over the drink to release the oils over the surface. Then he
rubbed the peel along the rim, and gently placed it in the gin. As the glass warms, he told
me, the essence of the lemon oil would slowly infuse the drink. “It’s really quite simple,” he
Simple but sublime. I may never become a regular martini drinker, but I smile knowing that
I’ve tasted the best in the world. Thank you, Alessandro.
or those who wish to avail themselves of the superb
shooting opportunities, there are thousands of acres—
both woodland and fields—for hunting dove, quail,
duck, turkey, woodcock, snipe and deer. Huntmaster Michael
Blakeley and his staff handle all the logistics, from the
traditional mule wagons to the beaters to the trained pointers
and retrievers. There is also a superb sporting clays course
designed by James Purdey and Sons on the property.
The Plantation also has a rich equestrian heritage, as several
of its past owners raised Thoroughbred jumpers and
racehorses. Today, riders of all abilities may explore the 30
miles of scenic trails. There is a certified instructor in both
English and Western disciplines. And in keeping with its
appreciation of tradition, Cherokee also keeps an array of
classic coaches for those who wish to learn driving skills.
As befitting its location in the pristine ACE Basin Wildlife
refuge, Cherokee takes its water sports seriously. An
Adirondack-style boathouse on the Combahee River is stocked
with canoes and kayaks, and a vintage Thames River motor
launch from the 1920s is available for members who wish to
experience the unspoiled beauty of the marshlands. The fishing
is great, and guides are available to teach the fine art of fly or
spin casting, with an emphasis on tag and release.
fter a day of outdoor sporting activities, the
Plantation House and cottages welcome members
and their guests to relax in an atmosphere of
understated luxury. Surrounded by burnished paneling, rich
brocades, antique silver and historic prints, members may
enjoy a quiet read in the library or common rooms before
sitting down in the gun room or formal dining room to a
gourmet meal such as Cornbread Stuffed Duck with Dried
Fruit and Nuts prepared by private chef Anushka Schurr.
Single malt scotches and vintage port are served after dinner,
and Carrianne Shanks, the charming concierge who hails from
the Highlands, is always delighted to discourse on the nuances
between Speyside and Highland malts.
In an age given to hyperbole, Cherokee Plantation does not
exaggerate when it claims to offer a way of life—a rare
opportunity of time, space and privacy in
which to unwind from
the stresses of everyday existence.
Only a few individuals
will have the opportunity
to join in the experience.
But those who do will
quickly discover that
a new meaning
Topnotch golf, a classic manor house and a vintage Thames motor launch are all part of the amenities offered at Cherokee Plantation.
A Profile of Berry Brother and Rudd
(from the Word Wenches blog)
Researching the little details that add color and texture to a story is one of my favorite parts
of writing a book. I’m one of those peculiar people who can hours in a museum examining
the gold-threaded stitching on a military uniform or the get down on hands and knees to study
the shape of a tea cabinet leg. Most of the things I learn never actually end up in the story. But
reading about various subjects—or better yet, seeing objects and places in real life—help me,
er, drink in the ambiance of the era.
Sometimes literally. Yes, research can be intoxicating!
Too Wicked To Wed, my new book, which came out last week, has a number of scenes set in
a gaming hell. Now, last week I talked about cards. (The history of them, not how to gamble
away your family fortune in a single night. I do draw the line just how far I’ll go to experience
authenticity.) So it seemed only natural to take a look at the other staple of a gaming hell—
wines and spirits!
"Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter . . .” —Lord Byron
We all know our Regency bucks of the ton liked to tipple. Brandy, port, claret were among the
favorites, And when talking about Regency drinking, one name comes to mind—Berry Broth-
ers, the quintessential purveyor of spirits to anyone who was anyone. So during a recent trip to
London, I decided to take a stroll down St, James’s Street and pay a call at Number Three.
You have only to look at the outside of the shop to know you are seeing something special.
It’s been in the very same spot since its founding in 1698. Notice the low sloping shape of the
building? That’s because it was originally a part of Henry VIII’s tennis court. Another thing
that may catch your eye is the sign of the coffee mill hanging above the front door. It, too, has
an interesting history, for you see, the business was originally opened by the Widow Bourne
(hmm, any relation, Joanna?) as a grocer’s shop named the Coffee Mill.
The business was passed down through the family and by 1768 was a major supplier of coffee
to the fashionable coffee houses and clubs—White’s and Boodles among them. Being on that
date, they already began a unique tradition that lasted until the early twentieth century. The Bb-
7charming fellow who showed me around the present-day Berry Brothers explained that scales
large enough to weigh a person were not household items in the aristocratic townhouses of
London. And so, many of the gentlemen of the time began stopping by to weigh themselves on
the huge coffee scale in the main room. (It is still there today.) The weights were duly recorded
in a ledger, and it apparently became a fashionable tradition. Many gentlemen came regularly
for their entire lives. (Public weighings, with the exact number inscribed in a book that anyone
could peruse? Honestly—only a man could have come up with THAT idea.) The thick ledgers
are still on shelf, and Byron and Beau Brummell are among the illustrious names that can be
within their dusty morocco-bound covers.
The shop began selling wine to King George III, and its trade soon began to outpace coffee
sales. It was in 1803 that the first Berry—sixteen-year-old George—set foot on the hallowed
floors. A distant relative of the Widow, he worked diligently to learn the business and the rest,
as they say is history.
Many wonderful pieces of art and memorabilia decorated the walls of Berry Brothers (Mr.
Rudd was added right after WWI.) One of my favorites is a “certificate of loss” from White
Star Lines, apologizing for the sinking of 69 cases of the company’s wine when the titanic went
down. And of course, there are some marvelous old vintages on display as well. (As a side-
note, the shop still sells coffee, though few people are aware of it.) After this delightful stroll
through history, I left the premises extremely happy (and entirely sober—I promise!)
aris takes the art of living well seriously. A city renowned for its luxurious tastes, it has for centuries
been synonymous with sybaritic style and gastronomic pleasures. Today, however, you do not have to
jet to the Left Bank to savor one of its sweetest secrets. Debauve & Gallais, the celebrated French
chocolatier whose establishment first opened on rue des Saints-Peres in 1800, has recently opened a chic
little shop on Madison Avenue in New York City, offering the creme de la creme in handmade chocolates.
Sulpice Debauve, the company’s founder, first dispensed his pistoles to King Louis XVI and Marie
Antoinette. A chemist by profession, he extolled the healthful properties of cacao. Since then, his creations
have pleased the palates of chocolate connoisseurs around the world, winning a cult following for his sinfully
rich confections. The list of aficionados includes Vincent Van Gogh, who bartered paintings for chocolate,
and Marcel Proust, who favored the ganache truffles.
One of the keys to the sublime success of Debauve & Gallais is its ingredients. The highest quality criolla
beans—the royalty of cacao—are selected from the best growing regions in the world and roasted according
to the company’s own specifications to retain the elegantly bittersweet flavor. The resulting couverture—the
basic blend of ground beans and cocoa butter—is then molded by hand into a delectable assortment of
truffles, pistoles and bonbons. A minimal amount of sugar is used, in order to allow the rich nuances of the
cacao to come through, and no preservatives or dyes are allowed. The added ingredients, which include
Antilles rum, Turin chestnuts and Turkish raisins, complement the high standards of the chocolate, and the
velvety ganache fillings feature such flavors as coffee,
jasmine and Earl Grey
tea. Golfers will find
the dimpled white
reward after a
It is only fitting
that many of the
highlighted with a
touch of gold leaf, for
the creations of Debauve
& Gallais are a rich treat
indeed; $88 per pound for
bonbons; $95 for truffles.
by Andrea DaRif
scratchThe winning taste of
Debauve & Gallais chocolates