Packing for a Trip to the Past

Anna Belfrage

What would you pack if you regularly visited the seventeenth century? On this occasion, you really wouldn’t have anything to wear. Our staple of jeans and a t-shirt would be provocative in the seventeenth century.  Author, Anna Belfrage, regularly sends her characters back in time, and I was intrigued to discover how she helps her heroine, Alex, to pack for another era.  Where does a writer start when dressing characters for another era? Alas, I would have to begin by abandoning my handbags as they didn’t exist.

I am handing over to Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga, and her costume department.  Anna’s novels have allowed her to fulfil her dream of becoming a professional time traveller.

Dressed for Success in the Seventeenth Century

Frans Hals

One of my series, The Graham Saga, is set in the seventeenth century for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the prevailing fashions of the time. While others may go “ooh” and “aaah” at the paintings of dashing cavaliers adorned with lace and ribbon, I like my men in breeches and a simple linen shirt, a no-nonsense coat worn atop, which is probably why my hero, Matthew Graham, dresses like that. Well, it may have something to do with his convictions as well. After all, Matthew is a devout member of the Scottish Kirk, and he and his brethren have little liking for fripperies.

Where Matthew was born and bred in the 17th century, his beloved wife, Alex(andra) Lind, grew up in our time. In difference to many of us, she never had a hankering for living in the past, but sometimes impossible things happen, which is how she ended up in the 17th century, wearing jeans.

Cook with a Hare

“I like her djeens,” Matthew says, his gaze lingering on her legs. “But, aye, you’re right: she can’t wear them here. Seeing her thus revealed is only for me to see.” (He has a certain amount of cave-man tendencies does our Matthew. Blame it on the times…)

So instead, Alex has to start by donning a shift. This is a long linen garment that reaches halfway between knees and ankles, it has long sleeves and a neckline with a drawstring. It serves as a combined nightie and underwear. (Forget about a silky negligee when in the mood for some action which is why I recommend nudity for seduction). This shift is worn until it can almost stand on its own – laundry is a heavy task.

On top of the shift Alex wears stays. Okay, so they’re not as bad as those sported by Scarlett O’Hara but once they’re laced they have a somewhat inhibiting effect on her movements. Stockings in scratchy wool are rolled up the legs to thigh-level and gartered into place. Petticoats help keep Alex somewhat warm, ending just above the ankle. A bum roll, heavy woollen skirts, a bodice and an apron complete the outfit. Let me tell you, this weighs a lot. It is difficult to run in full skirts. Or climb a tree (which is a bad idea anyway, as women shouldn’t do something as indecorous as climb a tree).

At this point Alex stops to inspect herself – she has a small looking glass, lucky her. The collar is tied into place, the hair is braided back and coiled into a tight bun before being covered by a linen cap. A woman without a cap is a sinful thing indeed! By the door are the shoes – they might be a pair of latchet shoes, but they might just as well be clogs. Actually, maybe using clogs is the better choice – at least they keep the feet dry!

“I’m not wearing all that,” Alex told me the first time I presented her new wardrobe for her. “I’ll stick to my jeans—and my underwear.”

“No, you won’t.” Matthew shakes his head. “To go around dressed like that is to attract unwanted attention. And should anyone find out you’re from the future…” he mimes a sliced throat. Too right: either you conform, or you risk sticking out like a sore thumb and potential witch. Not good in a time and age where witches are still being executed.

Alex sighs. “Fine,” she says, throwing me an angry look. (She blames me for throwing her back in time. She rarely thanks me for gifting her with the rather wonderful Matthew.) “But just so you know, the moment I get back, I’ll be in jeans again.”
Back? I share a look with Matthew. Alex isn’t going back. After all, while time travelling is a rare occurrence, time travelling with a return ticket is even rarer!


Sir Anthony van Dyck and Lord Bernard Stuart

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. A ninth instalment has just been published, despite Anna having thought eight books were enough. Turns out her 17th century dreamboat and his time travelling wife didn’t agree…

Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and on her blog. Or on twitter and Amazon.


Please see all my guest posts at Mail from the Creative Community and my blog and website at


Stumbling Across History with Imogen Matthews

In November, I received some mail from Nunspeet, Holland.  Imogen Matthews posted an article to Books in my Handbag Blog, during her annual holiday. On opening the email, I was delighted to read about how she stumbled upon history and the real hidden village.

Imogen Matthews is the author of The Hidden Village, an intriguing historical fiction, and it is a pleasure to hand over my blog to her, today.



The real hidden village and why I wrote a novel about it

The Pas-Opweg: Inspiration for the front cover of The Hidden Village

The woods are perfectly quiet at this time of year and the only sound is our bikes crunching over fallen beech nuts. We’re on the long straight avenue of tall beech trees arching upwards to meet in the middle. Their leaves still cling on, burnished gold by the sun’s setting rays. It’s a scene I never tire of.  At the crossroads, we stop briefly to take photos, as we always do, and carry on towards the hidden village. We know it well after discovering it only a few years ago.



Signpost to Het Verscholen Dorp -the real hidden village

I always look forward to our annual holidays in Nunspeet, where we stay in gezellig holiday houses tucked away in the woods. We know all the cycle routes that track across the heath, past improbable sand dunes and along narrow paths leading deep into the woods.


At least, we thought we did until one day back in 2011, we cycled past a large boulder with something written on it. I stopped to discover it was a memorial stone to the local community who had sacrificed so much to help people persecuted by the Germans in World War 2. I was astonished to learn this piece of history. In 21 years of cycling holidays, no one had ever mentioned this place, nor had I ever read anything  about it.

Across the path was a sign to Het Verscholen Dorp, Dutch for hidden village. It wasn’t easy to see what was there, which was probably the point. We followed a rough path through the trees and ahead of us was a hut of some sort, only partly visible. The roof was covered with moss, vegetation and branches to look like the ground beside it. It was a reconstruction of an underground hut that had stood on this spot.


Reconstruction of an underground hut

These huts were as dark and secluded as the one shown here, designed to be invisible to the naked eye. Whole families lived inside these cramped spaces and many were so relieved to have somewhere safe to live that they were prepared to put up with less than perfect conditions.

After discovering Het Verscholen Dorp, I was enthused to find out more, but there was very little written material or information on the internet. This made me even more intrigued: so few people today know about what happened on this spot that I wanted to write my own story visualising the events and their effect on these brave people. I knew I didn’t want to write a historical account, but a narrative based on imagined characters who flee to safety inside the village and others who put their own lives at risk to help them. The reality was that there was a huge community who devised the plans to build the village, clandestinely helping to bring people there and provide them with everything they needed, including food, clothing, medicines books and news from the outside. It was remarkable that this village stayed hidden for so long from the Germans patrolling these woods. They suspected something was going on but were unable to uncover the village however hard they tried.

Every year we go back and I walk around the “village” which today consists of three underground huts. There would have been more back in 1943-1944, housing nearly 100 Jewish men, women and children, fallen English and American pilots, Dutch men who resisted going to Germany to work for the Germans and other nationalities looking to escape the Nazis. People were in hiding all over the Veluwe woods, in farmhouse attics, cellars, outbuildings and other purpose-built dwellings, but this was the only organised village.

Today, the woods are a haven for people looking to escape busy lives in towns and cities. The Veluwe is a popular holiday destination, but deep in the woods  it’s always tranquil. I imagine how quiet it must have been 74 years ago, although for many the peace was tempered by an undercurrent of threat and fear.

In my story, Tante Else and her helpers do all they can to keep up people’s spirits by visiting every Sunday with coffee, cakes and news.

Tante Else put down her basket and took out a packet of coffee and a cake wrapped in a tea towel. The smell of cinnamon filled the room. She must have baked it that morning. Everyone crowded round to see and soon the hut filled with chatter and laughter.

‘It’s real coffee,’ cried Corrie, taking a deep sniff as she spooned it out into the pan. Tante Else smiled, but wouldn’t let on where she’d obtained such a rare commodity. None had tasted real coffee for months. Everyone had grown sick of the ersatz stuff made from roasted chicory that didn’t taste at all like coffee, just burnt. The smell of coffee filled the air and its effect was as intoxicating as alcohol.

Soon their conversation becomes subdued as Liesbeth, Oscar and tante Else bring them the news from outside. Sofie, just 16 years old, has recently moved to the village and is having difficulty settling in and following all the rules.

‘They’re forcing Jews to wear a big yellow star when they go out. Everyone and anyone can be stopped and searched and if they don’t have ID on them, they’ll be arrested. Every day we’re hearing about people disappearing,’ said Liesbeth.

‘My uncle was arrested in Amsterdam last month. He only just avoided being sent to Vught. Father’s been so angry about this. It’s why he wants this village to be a success,’ said Oscar quietly.

‘This is why it’s best you’re here for the time being. I hope you understand now why we have these rules, which might seem petty, but are for everyone’s safety,’ said tante Else, whose gaze landed on Sofie.

It was too much to bear. Sofie looked away…


Contact Imogen at:


Visit my Author Chat Room to meet Imogen Matthews.  Please see my review of The Hidden Village at My Reading.


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Travelling back to my childhood with word magician, Patricia Furstenberg

Patricia Furstenberg is a bestselling children’s author and her work is an absolute joy.  My interactions with her over the last couple of months have been an inspiration.  I was honoured when she asked if I would reveal the covers of her new trio of books.   As an avid reader, I believe that the children’s authors are word magicians and dream weavers.  Once upon a time, children’s stories commenced my lifelong reading journey thus they have a special place in my heart.  Children’s writers inspire the future readers and writers.

I know that Patricia will inspire children aged three to seven years with her trio of stories: ‘The Lion and the Dog’, ‘The Elephant and the Sheep’, ‘The Cheetah and the Dog’.  These stories are simple tales of friendship inspired by true stories from the animal kingdom. Without minding their differences diverse animals become friends, helping and supporting each other. They share food and shelter, they give each other moral support and, of course, they have lots of fun together! It is my pleasure to reveal the covers of these stories here today.  Instantly, the covers present you the promise of a magical world of animals.  Patricia’s stories are popular because they entertain and educate: they can be used as a starting point for discussion with children.  I am sure that adults will enjoy the stories as much as the children.

One is never too old to read a children’s story! I had great fun reading ‘Joyful Trouble’, and realized the depth of what Patricia achieved with her books. I am astounded at how much Patricia writes and wondered what motivates her.  Having interviewed and interacted with this prolific writer of children’s fiction, I invited Patricia to tell me more about her writing.  I wanted to know how she works her magic to get children reading and how she educates through her stories.

Patricia Furstenberg on the magic of animals in children’s stories #Guestpost

Children’s love of stories comes from an innate desire to discover the truth, supported by their confidence that they will succeed in this endeavour because they feel protected in the safety of their lives. I like to think of children’s books as a magic trick. You have the instant surprise and joy, yet in the long run, besides the lingering amazement and awe, there are countless benefits. Reading improves a child’s vocabulary, thus his self-esteem. Reading is linked to EQ (Emotional Intelligence); a high EQ can positively assist a child in a bullying situation. Reading improves child-parent bonding as well as a scholar’s concentration and his academic excellence.

Writing for children is an attractive challenge which I enjoy tremendously. Take a real life situation, add lots of imagination, dress it with metaphors, throw in at least one animal character and sprinkle with humour. Let it rise. Bake it with love and serve it with bright illustrations. It will keep kids entertained for years. And ideas for new kids’ stories are everywhere; tucked away in my memories, like Puppy, my latest book release, or hidden gems in the nature surrounding us like my first book, Happy Friends. The more I write, the more ideas I discover.

Animals are very important in children’s lives. From an emotional level, as they teach youngsters empathy and responsibility, to a more cognitive one. So many life lessons can be taught if we sugar-coat them in a puppy or bunny shape. The same goes for Young Adult books. Think of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, a sheer lesson about the will to live and how our perception of reality changes when beasts are involved, whether they are imaginary or not. Animals always do unexpected and extraordinary things in order to survive and often they become a symbol of our most profound fears and battles; yet animals never judge. My second book, Joyful Trouble, tells the story of a Great Dane enlisted in the Royal Navy during WWII. This dog wins the hearts of all soldiers and residents of Simon’s Town, South Africa, through his sheer loyalty and love. I like to think that Joyful Trouble reached Bestseller status on Amazon UK and US in its category through his likeable personality and uplifting presence.

Sometimes beasts have their own path to follow, as well as dance with Belle. Other times animals succeed in bringing humanity into a story where people act mercilessly. Dumb Witness, Agatha Christie’s thriller, presents a most softened Hercule Poirot solely through his interactions with Bob, the fox terrier that holds the definitive clue. Perhaps reading this crime novel by Dame Christie was one of the turning points in my life. But it wasn’t until much later that I decided to put pen on paper and write children’s books focused on animals. Animals make for such versatile characters. George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where “some animals are more equal than others,” although it is a satire on the Soviet Union under the Communist Party rule is still relevant to the present political scene of many countries around the world.

At times, an animal pops up in a story because of cultural perceptions, such as in Jerome K Jerome’s witty Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). Other times the animal itself brings the fiction to life, if you think of Dion Leonard’s wonderful Finding Gobi or of my next trio of children’s stories The Lion and the Dog, The Elephant and the Sheep, The Cheetah and the Dog. Some stories ask to be written, others just wait to be discovered, you must just pay attention. And where there is an animal with a history to tell, there are usually more waiting in line. For most beasts live in packs, helping each other. A little bit like the Twitter community J where we follow and support one another, taking strength from numbers.


Take a look at one of Patricia’s articles about encouraging boys to read.

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Please see my review of Joyful Trouble, the interview with Patricia Furstenberg and my blog at