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Monday, January 23, 2023

In Defence of Stew

In Defence of Stew



Stew. It doesn’t sound appetizing. People speak of stewing in one’s own juices, meaning those that suffer as a result of their own, often foolish actions. Tea that is stewed is bitter, overdone. To be in a stew means a character is angry, anxious or embarrassed.


In her book, “The Tough Guide to FantasyLand”, Diana Wynne Jones laments that, no matter how exotic the location, stew is often served as a meal for the questing heroes. A visual joke in the film “The Two Towers” has Aragorn ambushed by a dubious stew made by Eowyn. The plotting side of me wondered – What is that meat? How did anyone have time to slow-cook – stew – anything while on the march? Surely the old medieval stand-by of fast food, a pie, would have been a more practical option?


Stews deserve a better press. An ancient form of cooking, almost every culture has its own form of this one-pot wonder. Once going, it does not need much attention or critical timing. The cheaper cuts of meat benefit from long slow cooking and pay benefits by releasing a delicious gravy. On the medieval table, a carefully roasted haunch of venison was frequently the showy centrepiece of a royal or noble feast, but to me this lean, gamey meat tastes better in a stew. Of course, in medieval times there were no potatoes, sadly, but onions, carrots, greens and beans were to hand.


Can stews be romantic? Of course! The hero and heroine, foraging side by side, to add mushrooms to the gently bubbling stew pot. Stirring the pot together. Sharing the meal...


I have my medieval Master Cook Swein creating stews in my novel, “The Master Cook and the Maiden” as can be seen from the following excerpt:

 The Master Cook and the Maiden.

 Vengeance…or love? Will Alfwen have to choose between them? And what part will the handsome Master Cook, Swein, play in her life? UK


In the middle of the cavern, surrounded by glinting fires, a black cap swerved and ducked. Under the hat Swein moved with the certainty of a king. He manned four spits, two stew pots and an oven at once, his arms constantly stirring, turning and scooping. In one hand he gripped and used a fork, testing and catching the great rolls of spitted meat, while his other hand alternated between a deep ladle, bowls of flour and a mortar of spices. One instant he raked a stream of glowing hot ashes out of an oven and into an iron box, into which he popped several fresh eggs to roast, another moment he shouted, “Pies in! Stew thickened!” and two burly loin-clothed youths skimmed huge thick-pastried tarts off wooden platters into the waiting oven, while a third tipped a stream of ground almonds into the seething stew pots.

Lindsay Townsend  


Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – January #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene. Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a new movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

This is the criteria by which I chose the movie scenes:

  • In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the overall storyline, not just visual and auditory filler.
  • In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.
  • In a musical drama, the dance is important to the overall storyline, not just visual and auditory filler.
  • The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

Side note: The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

Onward to the January movie scene. 

My well-used DVD cover of Cat Ballou.
  • Name of Movie: Cat Ballou
  • Historical Time Period: 1894
  • Location: Wyoming, U.S.A. in fictional Wolf City
  • Occasion: harvest festival barn dance
  • Type of Dance: square dance

Plot Summary - Paraphrased from Wikipedia – This 1965 western comedy-drama stars Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin. Catherine “Cat” Ballou hires a notorious gunman to protect her father’s ranch then later hires him to avenge her father’s murder. The gunman turns out to be less than what she paid for.

Scene Set-Up - The set-up is included in the clip up to 2:24. In this short amount of time, we learn many things.

  1. Cat is newly returned to her hometown.
  2. She’s been away long enough that Sheriff Cardigan doesn’t recognize her.
  3. Cat’s father is tough and witty.
  4. Her father still thinks of her as a little fathers tend to do.
  5. Her father is proud of her.
  6. We infer the sheriff is corrupt and is part of the plan to run her father off his ranch.
  7. Cat isn’t afraid of confrontation or to speak her mind.
  8. Cat understands immediately the sheriff is an obstacle to justice.
  9. Cat is fiercely protective of her father.
  10. Cat loves her father deeply.
  11. Cat has been threatened by a villain named Strawn.
  12. The sheriff has minions.
  13. Cat’s friend, Jackson, advises her to hire a gunfighter.
  14. We infer that Strawn is a gunfighter for the sheriff or someone the sheriff is in cahoots with.

The dance begins at 2:25 and devolves (or evolves) at 5:55 into a brawl of hilarious entertainment.

During the square dance—2:25 to 5:54—we learn more.

  1. Cat and Jackson discuss hiring Kid Shelleen, a gunfighter with a reputation as one of the best.
  2. We get a feel for the racial tension of the time. Cat’s father chastises her for dancing with Jackson, a Native American, because a white woman dancing with him will cause him trouble. Her father evidently likes Jackson.
  3. Cat is surprised to see two men she’s obviously acquainted with, who are outlaws with prices on their heads.
  4. Cat and one of the outlaws are attracted to each other. “What are you doing here?” “Looking for you.”
  5. Cat dances with one of the outlaws and invites him (and his gun) to go home with her, which infers she’s hiring him/them to protect her father.

This movie clip is pixelated at the beginning and somewhat blurry throughout, but it’s watchable for our purposes.

Below is a clearer clip (3:21) of just the dance.

If the videos don't show on your device, these are the urls: and

This dance scene gives us a feel for the:

  • clothing and hair styles,
  • social activity,
  • social hierarchies (cultural, racial, gender),
  • music, and
  • dance of the time period.
I appreciate all of this as a writer of historical romance for use as reference.

The use of a square dance accomplishes several things. The quick pace of the dance itself moves the action along. It allows the interactions to ebb and flow, which builds viewer anticipation with thoughts of Is she going to dance with him again? Will someone else intervene? Oh...they're looking for each other.

When they come together again for a few moments, they exchange bits of bantering dialogue or professions of love. Dancing, especially in bygone days, was a type of courtship ritual. Couples could touch, speak intimate words, or even make clandestine plans out of earshot of a chaperone.

This scene packs a lot of plot information through dialogue; facial expressions; body language; character insights through dialogue and inference; hints of different character’s motivation and intent; and several points of foreshadowing into a 5½ minute clip.

Well done.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

Warning Sign Image credit: © Can Stock Photo / karenr

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Princess Spy

 The Princess Spy

by C. A. Asbrey

Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan

Born on January 1st 1914, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan was a princess, having been born into royalty in India; a Muslim, whose father was a Sufi preacher; a writer, mainly of short stories; and a musician, who played the harp and the piano. Her American mother was born Ora Ray Baker, cousin of Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Church in the USA. Her father was Inayat Khan Rehmat Khan, an Indian professor of musicology, singer, exponent of the saraswati vina, poet, philosopher, and pioneer of the transmission of Sufism to the West. Her great-grandfather was known as the 'Beethoven of India', and came from a noble lineage going back thousands of years.

She was rich, beautiful, talented, intelligent, and lived a life of privilege, and when WW2 broke out, she could have stayed at home and waited it out. Nobody expected women to go to the front lines at that time, and most certainly didn't anticipate going into enemy territory on their own—but she did—and paid the ultimate price as she tried to save lives.

She was a Sufi—a Muslim sect often defined as Islamic Mysticism. Sufists are pluralists, humanitarians, and pacifists, and embrace all humanity with love. "The human being has been created with love in order to love. Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi says, "All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!". They see all human life as sacred, and love as a bridge to God. Her religion informed the way she lived her life, and how it ended.

She lived a cosmopolitan life. Born in Russia, her family moved to London in 1914 at the outbreak of WW1. They then moved to Paris, where she was educated at the Sorbonne. She was a child psychologist, a talented harpist and pianist, and wrote a series of children's books, but fled to England when France was invaded during WW2. Her pacifist brother, Vilayat, was also unwilling to fight, but willing to remove danger for others, so had volunteered for the dangerous maritime role of minesweeping. Vilayat said, "You see, Nora and I had been brought up with the policy of Gandhi's nonviolence, and at the outbreak of war we discussed what we would do", said Vilayat, who had followed his father and become a Sufi mystic. "She said, 'Well, I must do something, but I don't want to kill anyone.' So I said, 'Well, if we are going to join the war, we have to involve ourselves in the most dangerous positions, which would mean no killing.' Then, when we eventually go to England, I volunteered for minesweeping and she volunteered for SOE, and so I have always had a feeling of guilt because of what I said that day."

Noor and her brother both burned with a desire to help the in war effort, and she joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force as a radio operative. It wasn't long before her linguistic skills brought her to the attentions of the French Section of the Special Operations Executive, where she was selected to train as a wireless operator in occupied territory. These brave people maintained a link between London and agents in the field, and arranged logistics and supplies of weapons for strategic attacks and sabotage.

It's difficult to overstate the danger of that role. The average life expectancy when she joined was around only six weeks, and the risks of betrayal were compounded by the dangers of being randomly searched as the operators had to move positions constantly, taking their equipment with them. As possession of a radio was illegal, there was no plausible deniability for an agent caught with one. They would be tortured and killed. 

Her musician's fingers made her talented at the radio work, but questions were raised about her suitability for the role due to her temperament and physical abilities. As a small woman she found it hard to keep up with reports saying, "Can run very well but otherwise clumsy. Unsuitable for jumping" "Pretty scared of weapons but tries hard to get over it." Another instructor wrote that she was "childlike" and had a gentle manner with a "lake of ruse". "She confesses that she would not like to have to do anything 'two faced", while another said she was "very feminine in character, very eager to please, very ready to adapt herself to the mood of the company; the one of the conversation, capable of strong attachments, kind hearted, emotional, imaginative." The harsh truth is that the British were generally so useless at languages that anyone proficient enough was likely to be given a chance to work in the field. Sebastian Falks, the writer of Charlotte Grey said in an article in The Times, "The prime requirement was the ability to speak the language. So poor was British language ability in general that even people who were hopeless at keeping secrets might be recruited if they were bilingual. A French-speaking woman called Noor Inayat Khan, an Indian princess, was recruited despite the fact she told her handlers she could never tell a lie.

Like all agents, she was given the chance to back out, but refused. Her handler detected she was still troubled by what she was about to undertake, so contacted her brother. Vilayat tried to dissuade her from going, but she was adamant. She was going, but she was sent in without her training being complete. 

On the night of the sixteenth or seventeenth of June, 1943, Noor, codenamed Madeleine, was dropped in occupied France. But she'd already been betrayed. By the twenty-fourth of June the Prosper network she had been sent to join was being rounded up. The British offered to bring her home, but she refused as she was the only remaining radio operator left in Paris. She was needed. Her handler agreed to this, but told her she should only receive and not transmit, as that made her easier to trace. She survived until September, when she was turned in for 100,000 Francs (about $558=just under $10,000 in today's money). The chief suspect was Renée Garry, the sister of the head of the team she was working for. After the war Renée escaped prosecution by one vote. Apparently, Noor had stolen the affections of France Antelme, another SOE agent, and Renée's one-time lover. 

 Despite being ruthlessly interrogated, Noor did not give up a single secret, and lied constantly. She did, however, appear to expose details of her general background in casual conversation. The Germans also recovered her notebooks, where contrary to protocol, she had written out all the messages she had sent and received.

On the 25th November, 1943, Noor escaped with two other agents, but only one, John Renshaw Starr, escaped. Noor and Léon Faye were quickly recaptured. It should be noted that Starr gave evidence on behalf of the SS officer who interrogated them that Joseph Kieffer did not injure or kill British prisoners. He was a lone voice in that case, as all other evidence said that Kieffer oversaw exactly that, even if he did not personally deliver it. It is possible the escape was engineered to see who the escapees contacted to bring in more prisoners. An MI5 investigation concluded that Starr may have been a double agent, but that there wasn't enough evidence for a prosecution, despite German evidence that he aided in making bogus wireless messages to London sound more British, and identified the bodies of British, French and Belgian spies. After the allies invaded Europe, he suddenly appeared in Mauthhausen Concentration Camp, just in time to be handed over to the Red Cross. He died in Switzerland in 1996, and was probably a double agent used by the British in ways not yet declassified.

Noor was sent into solitary confinement and permanently shackled hand and foot, graded as 'highly dangerous'. Kept in dreadful conditions for ten months, she was eventually sent to Dachau. The following morning Noor, and three other female prisoners were executed by a shot to the back of the head. A German officer told investigators that the women held hands as they were being executed. A Dutch prisoner later said that Noor was badly beaten by a Gestapo officer called Wilhelm Ruppert, before being shot in the back of the head. Her last word was, "Liberté."

Ruppert was hanged in 1946 for murdering numerous prisoners in similar circumstances to Noor.

Memorial bust of Inayat Khan in Gordon Square Gardens, Bloomsbury, London

And now we come to the part where you make up your own mind. Was Noor sent to her death in the interests of a bigger win? Too much doesn't add up. Were the allies really so desperate that they could send someone whose record said, "Not over-burdened with brains, but has worked hard and shown keenness apart from the security part of the course. She has an unstable and temperamental personality, and it is very doubtful whether she is really suited to work in the field." Possibly—by 1943 the allies were getting pretty desperate, but it can't be dismissed.

Yes, her training was truncated, but did anyone really need to tell her not to keep a record of all her messages? Or, was she told to do this in the knowledge that they were very likely to fall into enemy hands? Why would someone be that incompetent? It makes no sense whatsoever. It seems like the most basic tenet of spying. Would that really be the result of a shorter training course, one where wrong things were deliberately taught, or such a level of incompetence that she should never have been sent in the first place?

Why are large parts of her records still classified? She managed only a few months in the field, when other agents she worked with are not redacted in this way? What could she possibly have encountered that is so secret that we can't know it now? Could it be that the British Government didn't want other spies to know how disposable some people were?

Flight Lieutenant Henri Déricourt RAF, code name “Gilbert”, was already a double agent, and SOE had already failed to heed a warning about Gilbert by Jack Agazarian, one of the chief SOE operatives SOE agents in France. Or did they heed it, and see how to use it? Buckmaster's failure to listen to that warning cost the lives of sixty-seven men and women. British leadership does have a record of appointing people from the 'right' families over ability, but was that more than sheer incompetence? and why didn't the rest of the team pick it up. Déricourt stated in an interview with Jean Overton Fuller that he'd been inserted into the SOE by someone in MI6, and acted on instructions on someone high in London. Was that Buckmaster?

When Noor arrived in France the backup Déricourt was supposed to provide never materialised, and she miraculously made her way to Paris on her own. After her capture, Buckmaster ignored the fact that her messages were being sent without the bluff codes that established they were really sent by Noor. They were being sent by Germans using her books. This was a breach of protocol, or was that feigned ignorance used? Three more agents were captured on landing before notice was taken. It's hard to believe that spies weren't used in that way. Those men even thought of including an eyelash in a letter to see if it had been read when it got back to them. They were all about the details, but not when it came to Noor.

Churchill and his intelligence agencies were experts at disinformation around 1943. There were numerous operations based around this at the time, Operation Mincemeat being the most famous. But there was a whole department working on that stuff, and it was not the only example. It has been suggested that Noor was dropped in occupied France at a time when her arrest and earnest innocence could be not only expected, it was warned about. There was no real reason why her training should have been cut short, unless there was a need to have her in place by a certain date. What could that date be, and could it be used to feed disinformation to the Germans? Churchill began planning in May 1943 for the invasion in June 1944. Noor's mission was smack-bang in that period.

Many people have speculated that these kinds of intelligence errors would have caused the allies to lose the war unless it was a deliberately calculated tactic to send a vulnerable agent as bait. Or was it total incompetence that cost multiple innocent, and well-meaning, lives?

For the record, I don't buy that level of incompetence.

But let's not forget Noor's raw, and very real, courage. She knew she faced death. She knew she wasn't totally prepared—but she went anyway. Noor protected everyone but herself, even under torture and duress. She was a genuine hero, and is someone I've respected since my parents first told me about her in the 1960s. There is a massive network of double-dealing and counter-espionage in the files that rings down the ages, and her bosses were attached to that murky world. People were seen as collateral loss to them, and sacrifices were made in wartime for the greater good.

Noor Inayat Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross, the French Croix de Guerre, and had a commemorative bust unveiled by the Princess Royal in 2012. A beautiful woman full of passion, empathy, idealism, and humanity, she undoubtedly helped with the war effort, but my question remains. Did she sacrifice herself, or did people make that decision for her without including her?

I am not happy with my own answer to that question.

Noor with her father and brother, Vilayat and father, Inayat Khan Rehmat Khan.




She sighed, turning to him. “Oh, Nat. What a mess. What can we do?” “Do?” 

He leaned in inches from her face, his hot breath hitting her flesh. “We have another chance. We grab it with both hands.” 

“And do what?” Her eyes glittered with inquiring intensely. 

“I still won’t be involved with a criminal. I won’t live life on the run.”

He reached out and stroked her cheek, his smile slipping so easily into the feral. “But you’d be so good at it.” 

“I’m not joking, Nat. We both know there’s something deep here, but it’s not a relationship until we move things on. Falling in love is a big enough gamble as it is without making things more dangerous.” 

He arched his brows, his face lighting. “Love? You love me?” 

“One of us had to say it, and I’m no coward.” She tilted her head proactively. “You have all the missing pieces of my soul. The question is, do I complete the puzzle and accept them?” 

“Oh, neither of us have a choice in that. It’s whether we learn to live with it or fight it.” He rolled a hand into her hair, threading it between between his fingers as he grasped the back of her head and pulled her to him. His kiss was fierce, flooding her senses and causing the world to fall away beneath her. He pulled back staring straight into her with an honesty more frightening than his lies. “Which is it?” 

Her brows met in consternation. “I just told you I love you. Is that all you have to say?” 

The lights in his eyes danced, the way only his devilment could. “Abi…of course I love you. Haven’t I told you so in every breath since we met? Love isn’t only a word. It’s what we do.” His fingers trailed lazily over her cheeks and down to her neck. He brushed her earlobe with velvet lips, moving to her neck. Her head rolled back and her lips parted involuntarily as he toyed with sweet spot on her neck. He was playing with her, making her wait for the crashing crescendo to flood her senses. His mellifluous baritone floated in her ear. “Come with me, Abi. Let me show you more.” His fingers interlaced with hers and he stood, pulling her to her feet, embracing her like a dancing partner. “Let me show how much I love you.” 

She reached out and drew him into a sensual kiss, running her hands through his thick hair. His hand dropped to her hip, moving her inexorably toward the door. It settled there and pulled her close to his hard chest. She groaned, anticipating his next move. 

She slipped one foot behind his and pushed hard. Surprise crowded his face as he tumbled backward onto the floor. “What the hell—"

Her generous lips tugged into her lopsided smile. “You think I’m going to fall into your bed? Think again, Mr. Quinn. If you want to show me love, you can think of a way out of this mess first. Do something to show you deserve me." 


Sunday, January 1, 2023


Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Photo property of the Author

Have you ever heard of the AdAMan club? It had its beginnings in 1922 when the "frozen five" decided to climb Pike's Peak and set off fireworks on New Year's Eve. From that first climb, they have added one person every year since. Now if you can imagine climbing from about 7000 feet to over 14,000 feet in the middle of winter carrying gear and fireworks that's what these folks do.

So, you may ask, what has this to do with 'What's Next?' It's the idea of building upon something that you have created. For many of us that is a writing career. So what are we going to be building in 2023?

New Year's is a time of resolutions, which I think are a waste of time, but people still write them down with the intent of making all these changes for the coming year. Maybe, we might want to think about taking what has worked and building upon that, much like the climb to the top of Pike's Peak in 1922.

Taking off in 2023
Photo Property of the Author

Taking a look at 2022, I spent some time with a couple of online conferences. There were online genealogy classes and other learning options. Growing that idea, I've created a 'living' document that I use to add classes, conferences, marketing options, etc. Now that it is started, I can add to it when something comes up. Once a week I look at the document to choose what I may want to add to my calendar.  

I am also all about supporting, sharing, and creating in ways that not only benefit me but also others. As we continue to carve out our careers looking at what we can do and build upon may be the best 'What's Next?'

Lastly, do I want to keep my website or transition to using a blog as a website or maybe even a Linktree option? Looks like more studying.

Of course, research, writing, and other creative endeavors will remain and grow. 

So I wish you all a wonderful 2023 and a glorious'What's Next?' 

For fun, some 'old' music as you plan your year.

Auld Lang Syne - Home Free

Let's Start the New Year Right - Bing Crosby

Happy New Year - The McGuire Sisters

Doris McCraw