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


A stolen painting in the pocket of my large handbag

Popular author, Anne Allen, released ‘The Betrayal’, on 22nd October.  ‘The Betrayal’ is the sixth book in the Guernsey Series.  Anne Allen has kindly selected an exclusive extract for Books in my Handbag.  The dual-time novel unfolds in the present day and during World War Two.  It is set against the backdrop of the German deportation of the Jewish community, in Guernsey, and involves a stolen Renoir painting. 

Treachery and theft lead to death – and love. 

‘The Betrayal’ is tense, powerful and spellbinding.

Anne will introduce her new novel, present an extract and tell you more about the intricate narrative.

Dear Readers,

I am delighted to present my latest in the Guernsey Novels series, ‘The Betrayal’.

This extract is from the beginning of the book and is the prelude to the modern part of the story, giving you a taste of the tension throughout the book.

Keep a copy of the book in your bag to dip into whenever you have a moment, you won’t regret it!

Happy Reading☺

Anne x

Presenting the extract:

Guernsey 2011

Something was wrong. The alarm didn’t blast out as he pushed open the back door of the shop. Standing still, he heard a noise. Someone was in the shop. Or more accurately, the basement. Nigel paused as he closed the door quietly behind him, his heart hammering against his ribs as he debated what to do. Whoever was in there knew how to disable a burglar alarm otherwise lights would be flashing and a discordant wail would be piercing the air. Best to shut them in the basement and call the police. Following the thought, he crept into the main shop, guided by the dim light coming through the rear window. His eyes adjusting to the dimness, Nigel tried to pick out the area where a rug should cover the trapdoor. For a moment he wondered who could have known about the basement, only discovered a few weeks before when they completed the renovations and replaced the flooring. Odd. And why the basement when the shop was full of valuable antiques?

Crouched at the edge of the hole, light from a torch casting shadows below, he was about to push the open door downwards when a hand snaked up and grabbed his arm.

More about ‘The Betrayal’…

Teresa Bichard and her baby are sent by her beloved husband, Leo, to England as the Germans draw closer to Guernsey. Days later they invade…

Leo, of Jewish descent, is betrayed to the Germans and is sent to a concentration camp, never to return.

Teresa returns to find Leo did not survive and the family’s valuable art collection, including a Renoir, is missing. Heartbroken, she returns to England.

Nigel and his twin Fiona buy a long-established antiques shop in Guernsey and during a refit, find a hidden stash of paintings, including what appears to be a Renoir. Days later, Fiona finds Nigel dead, an apparent suicide. Refusing to accept the verdict, a distraught Fiona employs a detective to help her discover the truth…

Searching for the true owner of the painting brings Fiona close to someone who opens a chink in her broken heart. Can she answer some crucial questions before laying her brother’s ghost to rest?

Who betrayed Leo?

Who knew about the stolen Renoir?

And are they prepared to kill – again?

What do the reviewers think of ‘The Betrayal’?

‘I am a huge fan of Anne Allen’s Guernsey series in which various locations are lovingly described. With the ‘suicide’ of her twin brother, this book has an orally different feel as Fiona tries to get to the bottom of it. With an undiscovered Renoir and links to WW2 this book has a much darker feel to it.’ Julie Ryan

‘Great characters and of course a love connection with a happy ending.’ Karen’s World

‘Having read Anne’s last book, Echoes of Time, I couldn’t wait to read her latest, and I wasn’t disappointed. The novel alternates between WW2 and 2011 and is set on the beautiful island of Guernsey. The Betrayal features twins, Fiona and Nigel, who discover a Renoir within the walls of their antique shop in 2011. When Nigel is found dead, and suicide is suspected, Fiona refuses to believe that her brother would end his own life and she sets out to uncover the truth. Unravelling the mystery will carry her on a journey back to 1940, and to the dark days of the German Occupation and the deportation of Jews.’ S. Charlton

And finally…

A late-comer to writing, Anne was a psychotherapist in a previous life.   Readers are lucky that Anne decided to tell her stories. Anne admits her characters do get under her skin and she misses Fiona and Michael, in particular. I look forward to discovering more about the characters and solving the mysteries presented by this delicious time-slip novel.

You can find out more about Anne Allen here.


Please see all the specially chosen extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at